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Wrestling body says why Russian champions competed at worlds despite pro-war rally

Zaurbek Sidakov

BELGRADE, SERBIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Zaurbek Sidakov (red) looks on during the Men’s Freestyle - 74kg weight gold medal match of the Wrestling Senior World Championships against Kyle Douglas Dake of the United States (not pictured) on September 18, 2023 in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Kadir Caliskan - United World Wrestling/Getty Images)

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Three Olympic champions from Russia were cleared to compete at the world wrestling championships this week because they were judged to have been pressured to appear at a pro-war rally in Moscow last year.

The United World Wrestling governing body explained Tuesday why Zaurbek Sidakov, Zaur Uguev and Abdulrashid Sadulayev were among the Russian wrestlers who passed vetting to compete as neutral athletes in Belgrade, Serbia.

All three won Olympic gold medals at the Tokyo Games held in 2021 and were paraded on stage at a flag-waving rally at Luzhniki Stadium in March 2022. It was attended by President Vladimir Putin three weeks after he ordered the military invasion of Ukraine.

The athletes’ presence there seemed likely to bar their return to competition with neutral status ahead of the Paris Games. The International Olympic Committee advised the governing bodies of each individual sport in March to exclude those who publicly supported the war.

However, a vetting process for the three wrestlers concluded “their participation in certain events is not (of) their own will,” United World Wrestling said in a statement.

The governing body’s vetting panel did bar 30 athletes, coaches and support staff from Russia and its military ally Belarus from coming to the Sept. 16-24 championships.

Their ineligibility was “based on evidence of an active support to the war on publicly available information or of a confirmed military activity,” UWW said in a statement.

However, Sidakov, Uguev and Sadulayev — who stood at the Moscow rally next to military personnel and other athletes who wore the pro-war “Z” symbol on their uniforms — were cleared.

“For those three champions, it could not be concluded to the same level of certainty that they actively and personally support the war and the policy of their government,” said United World Wrestling, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland. “From further information received during this process, it also appeared that these athletes are pressured, and their participation in certain events is not (of) their own will.”

Russian wrestlers are competing at the worlds as neutral individuals without their national colors, flag or anthem.

Sidakov won his third world title Monday in the 74kg class, beating Kyle Dake of the United States, the two-time defending champion who took bronze in Tokyo.

Uguev did not win a medal in the 57kg class. Sadulayev was injured in his semifinal and withdrew before his scheduled bronze-medal match against American Kyle Snyder.

Russian wrestlers had won four medals, including two gold, in men’s freestyle classes through Tuesday.