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Olympic champion Evgeny Rylov shed no tears

In the June issue of Swimming World Magazine, Editor-in-Chief John Lohn writes an editorial that offers no sympathy for Russian Evgeny Rylov, whose actions in support of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine are troubling.

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The talent cannot be denied Yevgeny Rylov. He has earned recognition as the best backstroke swimmer in the world thanks to the Olympic titles he won in Tokyo last summer. And given his international consistency over the years, including stellar performances at the World Championships, there’s no doubting his status as an all-time driver in his specialty sport.

This summer, however, the 25-year-old Russian will be noticeably absent when the World Championships are held at the Duna Arena in Budapest. Even before FINA declared Russian athletes ineligible for the World Championships due to the invasion of their homeland in Ukraine, Rylov announced that he would voluntarily skip World Championships. Why? His Instagram account shared the story:

“In support of the Russian Paralympians, in support of all Russian athletes who have been banned from international competitions, I refuse to go to the (World Championships) this summer. I believe that losing competition means losing development of the sport. Sad as it may sound, the sport cannot move without decent competitors.”

Sad indeed.

But yes it can.

Apparently, Rylov feels the sporting world – and its progress – matters more than the thousands of lives that have been lost Vladimir Putin’s tyrannical attack and declaration of war on Ukraine. Rylov demonstrated this attitude when he attended a rally in support of Putin and performed on stage.

In response to Rylov’s decision, FINA imposed a nine-month suspension on the four-time Olympic champion. The suspension runs until January 20, 2023, making the end date just a bit longer than the FINA suspension of all Russian athletes until the end of 2022. The FINA decision also follows the move by Speedo, Rylov’s former sponsor, to the Russians released from his athlete roster.

“I don’t understand what I did, but in the end (FINA) filed a complaint against me because (comments that) hurt other athletes’ feelings,” Rylov told Russian media. “Look, I insulted them by simply supporting my country, my president. I don’t know how to disagree.”

Rylov’s words call for pity as he tries to portray himself as a victim of political circumstances. Instead, his position is pathetic and an unfeeling nature is revealed. Political victims in sport are easy to find. Questions Tracy Caulkins and Craig Beardsley. Questions rowdy profits and Mary T Meagher. Questions Cynthia Woodhead and Brian Goodell. How about Jonty Skinner?

Rylov is nothing like that, and the moment he publicly supported the invasion of Ukraine and the murder of innocent citizens, he yielded to any sympathy sent his way. He identified himself simply as a dictatorial sympathizer whose presence would not be missed on an international pool deck if he never showed up in a Russian cap again. Who cares if he never competes again for a three-letter acronym used to identify athletes who represent a country whose human rights abuses have been complemented by a government-run doping regime?

This summer, more Russian athletes will be affected by Putin’s power-hungry maneuvers. The All-England Club, which organizes Wimbledon, announced in mid-April that it would ban all tennis players representing Russia and Belarus, which have close ties to Putin’s government, from participating. In this case, this decision can be discussed. These players, including the Grand Slam title list Daniel Medvedevhave not publicly applauded Putin’s actions.

Back to the pool, none of the Olympic medalists Kliment Kolesnikov, who doesn’t get the chance to fight for multiple medals. Is it a fair approach to link their nationality to the despotic behavior of their leaders? Arguments can go either way.

What is undeniable is the way Rylov carried himself, firstly through his visible appearance and secondly through his pathetic words.

So don’t shed a tear for Evgeny Rylov this summer – and during his suspension. If the backstroke events lack a power player, so be it. Better this scenario unfold than the sport witnessing an outside supporter of the murder being honored on a podium.

All comments are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine or its contributors.

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