Demonising Justin Gatlin
13th September 2015
The International University Sports Federation (FISU) has failed to respond to questions about whether it is appropriate to allow Russia’s worst polluting company to sponsor the 2019 Winter Universiade, which takes place from 2-12 March in Krasnoyarsk. Norilsk Nickel, which emits 1.67 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide each year according to the Financial Times, is the General Partner of the Winter Universiade.
Norilsk Nickel is based in Norilsk, a home to just under 180,000 people and inside the Arctic Circle, where temperatures can drop to -50ºc. Norilsk is no longer a closed city, but foreigners require a special permit to visit. In 2017, Russia’s Federal State Statistics Service listed Norilsk as the most polluted city in Russia, producing 1.798 million tonnes of carbon pollutants. In 2007, the company produced 1.9 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide, more than the entire country of France.
Most of the population of the city are employed in connection to Norilsk Nickel. According to the city’s Russian Wikipedia page, Norilsk residents report a higher incidence of allergies, asthma, developmental disabilities, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, digestive issues, blood disease, and mental conditions – sometimes affecting children. Norilsk residents are also twice as likely to develop cancer as the Russian average, and as a consequence of all of the above, face a life expectancy that falls below the national average.
The company has recently made attempts to improve the situation for the residents of Norilsk, many of whom it employs. In 2017, it announced a US$14 million plan to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 2023. In 2026, it closed its 1942-built smelter, which removed the 370,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide it emitted annually.
‘Nornickel is the world’s largest producer of non-ferrous metals as well as a company with a high level of social responsibility’, reads its description on the Krasnoyarsk 2019 Winter Unversiade internet site. ‘The main areas of the social policy of the Company are support of professional sports and sports of the highest achievements, development of mass sports and promotion of healthy lifestyle. At the same time, support of student and junior sports is one of the priority areas of the Company, as well as a way to contribute to the sustainable future of the country and the world.
‘Pursuant to its goals, Nornickel joined the team of partners of the International University Sports Federation (FISU). The Company is the Partner of the Russian Olympic Committee. It is the Sponsor of the Russian Football Union and the Official Partner of the Russian National Football Team, as well as the Sponsor General of the Norilsk Nickel Mini-football Club and the owner of the Professional Basketball Club CSKA.’
Norilsk Nickel is owned by Vladimir Potanin and was formerly a State-owned company. Its CEO was Potanin’s former business partner, Mikhail Prokhorov, who in 1995 began to transform the company. He sold his stake in the company in 2008, which is understood to have made him one of the richest men in Russia. In 2011, he resigned his industrial positions to enter politics, however faced accusations that the party he was to head was set up by the Kremlin in order to provide the illusion of credible opposition.
Prokhorov is the owner of National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise the Brooklyn Nets, and former President of the Russian Biathlon Union (RBU). He is understood to be one of the financial backers behind a defamation lawsuit launched by three retired Russian biathletes – Olga Zaytseva, Yana Romanova and Olga Vilukhina – in February 2018. It is understood that each of the three athletes is seeking US$10 million in damages after being stripped of Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic relay gold medals by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as a result of information provided by Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, former Director of the Moscow Laboratory.
In his affidavit (PDF below), provided to the IOC’s Schmid Commission, Dr. Rodcheknov alleged that Prokhorov had bribed biathlete Irina Starykh to keep quiet about being instructed to inject erythropoietin (EPO) by Stanislav (Statik) Dmitriev. He also alleged that half of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic biathlon team was under the control of Dmitriev, a ‘well known’ supplier of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), whom he named as the primary source of EPO for the Russian Winter Olympic team.
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