A Ukrainian Olympic medalist has lashed out over the political row that has seen his country’s defense ministry order a meeting with an athlete who hugged a Russian rival, while her home city’s mayor has passionately defended her.
Karate bronze medalist Stanislav Horuna has been unimpressed by the controversy engulfing Yaroslava Mahuchikh, the high jumper who was summoned to talk to Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar upon her return from Tokyo.
Fellow bronze winner Mahuchikh, who is a junior sergeant of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, emotionally embraced Russian Mariya Lasitskene after her rival claimed gold, causing Malyar to speak out about the athlete’s “restrictions and responsibility” because of the “Russian-Ukrainian war [that] is ongoing in Ukraine.”
“Sports, motherf*cker, beyond politics,” bristled European Games champion Horuna, extolling the kind of close friendship that Mahuchikh and CSKA army athete Lasitskene appeared to show in their national colors.
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“For most athletes of the national team of Ukraine, this is a profession and a matter of life. Get off the athletes with your new politics. Being photographed on a pedestal with an opponent or friend is part of it.
“The [podium] is a unique and exceptional place of respect that brings together only a few successful athletes thanks to their work on themselves and performance. No more, nothing less.”
A fierce debate has ensued following the photos, with a charged reaction including a deluge of comments under a post by Mahuchikh, with some viewers accusing her of treachery and bringing shame on Ukraine.
“There is no ′betrayal’ in the photo of Maguchih and Lasitskene,” insisted Horuna. “Sometimes in this brief moment, because of recognizing one another as equal, strong friendships or just good relationships [arise].
“They were hooked by sport and life. People make friends because of competition and, equally, hard work on themselves because of respect for each other’s work.
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“What does this have to do with international politics? [Challenge] the athlete for their political manifestations, but [allow] athletes [to have] personal relationships formed on the basis of things far from politics.”
Borys Filatov, the Mayor of Mahuchikh’s home city of Dnipro, pledged personal support for the star, who he lauded as a “young, beautiful, bright girl” who was “smiling and humble.”
“You are not just a talent – you are the hope not only of Ukrainian, but of all world sports,” he told the 19-year-old, advising her to take no notice of “fools”. “All roads can be opened before you with your appearance, charisma and character.
“But you prefer the athlete’s hard, exhausting, destructive path to health. We love you. Dnipro is proud of you.”
Journalist, lawyer and businessman Filatov clearly agrees with those who argue that there was no political intent in Mahuchikh’s actions, turning on those who he accused of being “angry”, “empty” and “senseless”.
“You win an Olympic medal. You are overwhelmed with incredible emotions. You are a 19-year-old girl, a completely child, young, innocent, who sees no life at all except for endless, exhausting training.
“You take a picture… and they start [criticizing] you.Thousands of ‘sofa patriots’ who have done a thousand times less for their country than you. Yaroslava, our girl, your hometown will not give you to anyone.”
Political scandals have been a consistent feature of the Games, most notably when sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya was ordered home by Belarus after publicly challenging her nation’s sporting organizers, as well as when numerous athletes courted divided reactions for taking the knee and performing other gestures.
Filatov told Mahuchikh that she could “always count” on the backing of the Ukrainian Athletic Federation and his own support, while Horuna is clearly fuming about the wider issue.
“Olympics is the quintessence of sports,” he said. “The Olympics are about friendship, union and respect, no matter what. The Olympics prove to everyone that sports are beyond politics.
“There is no politics in the Olympics. There is a sports spirit and a healthy competition. Your negative comments criticizing the photos [carry] a lot more treason.
“Instead of leaving a photo as only a photo, it’s you who gives a fictional ‘betrayal’ real life by commenting. If sports are politics then education is politics, engineering is politics, medicine is politics, art is politics.
“Our whole life, with this approach, is politics. Leave politics to statesmen and do not put politics into everything.”
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