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Cold War chill hits Olympics

(CNN) -- Russia is threatening to pull all its athletes out from the 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City unless explanations are given for some judging decisions.

They say the expulsion of Russia's hotly-tipped women's cross-country relay team from the competition, after one of its members was deemed to have failed a doping test, was unfair.

And they are angry at a previous week's decision to award the Canadian figure skating pair Jamie Sale and David Pelletier the gold, along with the Russian pair Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.

CNN's Jill Dougherty explains how the Russians have responded to the treatment of their athletes and how politics has entered the sporting arena.

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Many Russians say the U.S. and others are injecting politics into the Olympics. Jill Dougherty reports (February 22)

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CNN: The Russians are talking about conspiracy theories behind some of the decisions. What are the theories?

JD: Russians believe the decisions have become highly politicised. A number of people feel that the U.S. wants to rule the world, including politics and sports -- every aspect.

They feel there are a number of coincidences, with the decisions going against the Russians. There are too many coincidences, they say.

They believe the adverse decisions have been made on purpose. When you try and pin down the issue precisely, nobody wants to say it is the U.S. government. More, they say that the old Cold War feelings are emerging.

In the old days they felt they were not being dealt with fairly and that there was animosity towards to the east -- that is coming back, they say.

CNN: Politics is no stranger to sport, just think back at the national boycotts at the Moscow and Los Angeles Olympics. How important is it that Putin has entered the fray?

JD: And not just Putin, but the Russian parliament as well. Putin is the person who can tell the team to stay or walk out. It is important what he says. It is also important to him politically because it has become a big domestic issue.

It is one of the main items on the Russian television and in newspaper editorials. People are talking about it in the gyms. Everybody is talking about it.

People really feel they have been insulted and not treated fairly. Putin, as a politician, has to realise that people are very angry about it.

Also, there has been a vote in the Russian parliament. Only three votes were against the measure which called for the boycotting of the closing ceremony at the games, as opposed to walking out of the competition.

They also passed a non-binding resolution which calls for the IOC to apologise to the Russian team and explain how the decisions were arrived at.

But some people are saying the athletes have trained for four years and deserve to compete as it might be their only chance to win a gold.

CNN: How serious is the threat of Russia walking out?

JD: I do not think that will happen. I doubt if Putin will support the call made by the president of the Russian committee for the IOC. But they may choose not to turn up for the closing ceremony.

CNN: How can you argue with a doping test?

JD: Well, that is what they are doing here. The cross-country skier was kicked out after testing positive for an elevated level of haemoglobin, in violation of doping rules. But they are linking it with a woman's menstrual cycle. They have denied any type of drugs-taking.

What they really did not like about the decision to expel Larissa Lazutina was that it happened so late in the day that a replacement could not be found.

CNN: How much do we have to see the threat in the context of the Sale and Pelletier incident?

JD: They felt the decision to upgrade the Canadian pair's silver to gold was incorrect. They argue the Russian pair won fairly. The Russian case is all part of a series of decisions.

CNN: How serious are the Russians about a re-run of the cross-country race?

JD: They are completely serious. They figure the women would have won it. They also want an investigation into all the controversial decisions to see if they were fair.

CNN: Could we see a return of frosty relations between the U.S. and Russia?

JD: Russians do not necessarily blame the American people, just that the judges are not fair. They feel that during the Cold War they were treated like this, and they are again.

But in the long-run I doubt if the Russian government would use this in their economic and political relations. Russia will not want to over react. They will express their unhappiness, but they will not turn away international investment.




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