The journalists who broke the story of Russian skater Kamila Valieva’s positive drugs test on Wednesday say they have faced death threats, abuse, and warnings they should check their tea.
A separate British newspaper journalist who asked Valieva whether she was a doper on Friday has also faced intense criticism from Russian members of parliament and online.
Such was the anger in Russia when Duncan Mackay and Michael Pavitt of the Inside the Games website initially broke the story that both men were deluged with messages dismissing their reporting as lies – until the Independent Testing Agency confirmed it was true on Friday.
Pavitt confirmed to the Guardian that Mackay had faced death threats, and that he had also been subjected to “significant” abuse. Other members of the team said they were confronted by Russian journalists in the main media centre in Beijing.
Meanwhile, Mackay was also told by one respondent on Twitter: “You will be positive when you discover some new substances in your tea”, an apparent reference to the fatal poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. When he replied that he didn’t drink tea, and tended to avoid the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair [where Litvinenko was poisoned], he was told: “Fortunately, you know what bankruptcy is. Prepare yourself to ride this road again, bruh.”
Anger among the Russian public and media also flared up again on Friday when a British journalist asked Valieva, who was found to have the angina drug trimetazidine in her body on a test taken on Christmas Day, whether she had doped and was a cheat.
The skater refused to answer and the journalist was then surrounded by Russian media figures who said his questions were inappropriate to a 15-year-old child. When the story then emerged in the Russian media, the reporter faced a wave of abuse, with one respondent telling him: “Our Russian journalists can tear you to pieces!”
Svetlana Zhurova, an Olympic speed skating champion and now a deputy of the State Duma in Russia, also criticised the questioner and the western media in general.
“We cannot expect anything else from them,” she told Championat.com. “It makes no sense to scold and accuse them of something, they will still behave this way. Even if the Russian athlete has any therapeutic permission, they will still blame us.
“At the same time, they will be completely calm about the fact that their athletes have therapeutic permission in the same way. For them, this is normal, but for our athletes it immediately becomes doping.”
A similar message was conveyed by Dmitry Svishchev, another deputy of the Russian State Duma. “Unfortunately, some journalists can find the strength to talk to a child as if they were their comrades somewhere in a pub,” he told the Russian website.
“Let them sit in London and ask such boorish and provocative questions to each other. Let our athletes not be touched. And even more so young athletes like Kamila. We won’t let her hurt! Children should not be asked such questions, she is still too young. We believe Valieva, we believe in her – she did not use anything forbidden.”