1st March 2021

Panarin case underlines why WADA was right to sanction Russia

Russian ice hockey player Artemi Panarin (Арте́мий Пана́рин), who has previously been critical of Russia’s governance, posted his support for Vladimir Putin’s (Владимир Путин) political opponent Alexei Navalny (Алексей Навальный) on Instagram on 21 January. On 22 February, his former Coach alleged that in 2011, Latvian police had been bribed to cover up a beating Panarin allegedly administered to an 18 year old girl. Panarin has denied the allegations as a ‘fabrication’, but has temporarily stepped down from the New York Rangers.

Why has the story regarding Panarin’s alleged actions in Riga appeared now? Why did Russian journalists feel it was relevant to cover an alleged incident involving Panarin from almost ten years ago? Why was the story published at around the time when protests were taking place in Russia calling for the release of Navalny? Why did Andrei Nazarov (Андрей Назаров), the Coach involved, stay silent for almost ten years? Did he approach journalists with the story, or did journalists approach him?

These basic questions didn’t stop the propaganda machine swinging into action. Firstly, there is this article for the Greanville Post, written by Caleb T. Maupin, a journalist for Russia Today. It states that police records exist of ‘criminal charges’ Panarin faced over the alleged 2011 incident. It also alleges that Panarin tried to rape the woman involved, and began to punch her after she refused to have sex with him. The article leads by describing the ‘cancel culture’ in the US.

This ‘cancel culture’ was also mentioned to me by another journalist, Michael Averko, who wrote this article on the situation for the Strategic Culture Foundation. ‘The Strategic Culture Foundation is an online journal registered in Russia that is directed by Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and closely affiliated with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’, reads a US State Report into Russian disinformation.

Both Maupin and Averko appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet. The Greanville Post is funded via donations, which generate revenue of US$21.8 million, according to Rocketreach. Although it describes itself as ‘a publication dedicated to seeking the truth wherever it may be found’, it appears happy to publish questionable allegations regarding Panarin. The reason they are questionable is because there is no evidence that they actually took place.

A fabrication?

The interview with Nazarov was originally published by Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP) on 20 February, and was republished by Sports.ru two days later. Nazarov also accuses Panarin of theft from the pockets of his teammates pockets whilst he was a member of a youth team. No corroborating details for this supplementary allegation, such as dates or teams, were given.

The author of the original KP article is Sergey Petrov (Сергей Петров), who appears to be a ghost. No email contact details exist for him at KP, and no social media accounts appear to exist – unusual for a journalist. Articles he has written for KP appear mainly political, and date back to August last year.

The background of Nazarov is not insignificant. Since 2015, his coaching career has taken a nosedive. His Wikipedia page mentions that he has been dismissed from a number of clubs for poor results, and he has not coached since 2018. He is understood to be a controversial figure. In 2011, he retaliated against fans in Minsk by attempting to hit them with a hockey stick. 

He has openly voiced his support for Putin. In June last year, he offered his support for Russia’s leaders after Panarin made comments about Russian governance. 

Latvian journalist Aivis Kalniņš has been following the story. Panarin’s former HC Vityaz teammates agree that Nazarov’s account is a fabrication. The Radisson Hotel in Riga, where the incident allegedly took place, has said that no such incident occurred. The Latvian authorities have confirmed that there are no police reports or court cases relating to the alleged incident.

 

 

Hit job?

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck, so the famous abductive reasoning test dictates. Panarin’s post was apparently liked by other sports stars. If this is a political hit job designed to destabilise support for Navalny overseas, then it could end up backfiring.

If the events are a complete fabrication, it would have been much easier to say that they occurred in Russia. Was the reference to Riga designed to give an air of credibility to the allegations? Why use a former Coach with such an obvious axe to grind? 

The panicked reaction from the western media, focussing on a potential threat to Panarin’s family in Russia, has allowed commentators to suggest bias against Russia. Was this the intention all along? Presumably, a full investigation will answer some of the many questions about this whole situation.

Relevance?

The Panarin episode highlights that the long arm of Russian State interference in sport extends to the US. Panarin has been pressured into withdrawing from US professional sport due to unsubstantiated allegations reported in the media, after he voiced support for Russian dissidents.

The media attack on Panarin does appear to be coordinated. The message that this sends to other Russian athletes competing overseas is: we are watching you. As with the Danil Lysenko (Данил Лысенко) situation, it would appear that Russia is happy to pressurise its athletes for political reasons.

The message it sends to international sport regulators is that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was correct to push for sanctions against Russia itself, after the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) failed to procure the authentic Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) from the Moscow Laboratory. After all, if a US professional ice hockey star can’t escape the influence of the Russian State, how can RUSADA?

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