Don’t Shed a Tear For Evgeny Rylov, Olympic Champ and Supporter of Murderous Regime

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From the June issue of Swimming World Magazine, Editor-in-Chief John Lohn writes an editorial offering no pity for Russian Evgeny Rylov, whose actions supporting Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine are disturbing.

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There’s no denying the talent of Evgeny Rylov. He’s earned recognition as the best backstroker in the world, courtesy of the Olympic titles he captured last summer in Tokyo. And given his international consistency through the years, including excellence at the World Championships, there’s no arguing his status as an all-timer in his specialty stroke.

This summer, though, the 25-year-old Russian will be noticeably absent when the World Championships are held at the Duna Arena in Budapest. Even before FINA declared Russian athletes ineligible for the World Champs, due to their homeland’s invasion of the Ukraine, Rylov announced he would voluntarily skip Worlds. Why? His Instagram account told the story:

“In support of Russian Paralympians, in support of all Russian athletes who have been removed from international competitions, I refuse to go to the (World Championships) this summer. I believe that losing competition is losing the development of sport. As sad as it may sound, sport cannot move without decent competitors.”

Sad, indeed.

But, yes, it can.

Apparently, Rylov is of the notion that the sporting world—and its progress—holds greater significance than the thousands of lives that have been lost to Vladimir Putin’s tyrannical assault and declaration of war on Ukraine. Rylov proved this stance when he attended—and appeared on stage—during a rally supporting Putin.

In response to Rylov’s decision, FINA imposed a nine-month suspension on the four-time Olympic medalist. The ban runs through Jan. 20, 2023, which makes the end date just a bit longer than the FINA ban of all Russian athletes through the end of 2022. FINA’s decision also follows the move by Speedo, previously Rylov’s sponsor, to dump the Russian from its roster of athletes.

“I don’t understand what I did, but in the end, (FINA) filed a complaint against me for (comments that) offended the feelings of other athletes,” Rylov told Russian media. “You see, I offended them by simply supporting my country, my president. I don’t know how to argue with that.”

Rylov’s words appeal for pity, as he tries to paint himself as a victim of political circumstance. Instead, his position is pathetic, and a callous nature is revealed. Political victims in the sport are easy to find. Ask Tracy Caulkins and Craig Beardsley. Ask Rowdy Gaines and Mary T. Meagher. Ask Cynthia Woodhead and Brian Goodell. What about Jonty Skinner?

Rylov is nothing similar, and the moment he publicly supported the invasion of Ukraine, and the murder of innocent citizens, he yielded any empathy sent in his direction. Simply, he identified as a dictatorial sympathizer whose presence on an international pool deck wouldn’t be missed if he never again appeared in a Russian cap. Who cares if he never again competes for whatever three-letter acronym is used to identify athletes representing a country whose human-rights violations have been complemented by a government-guided doping system?

This summer, other Russian athletes will be affected by Putin’s power-hungry maneuvers. The All-England Club, which organizes Wimbledon, announced in mid-April that it was banning entries from all tennis players representing Russia and Belarus, which has strong ties to Putin’s government. In this instance, that decision can be debated. Those players, including Grand Slam titlist Daniil Medvedev, have not publicly cheered Putin’s actions.

Back to the pool, neither has Olympic medalist Kliment Kolesnikov, who won’t get the chance to compete for several medals. Is connecting their nationality to their leaders’ despotic ways a fair approach? Arguments can go both ways.

What is inarguable is the way Rylov has carried himself, first through his for-all-to-see appearance, and second for his pitiful words.

So, shed not a tear for Evgeny Rylov this summer—and through the duration of his suspension. If the backstroke events are missing a power player, so be it. Better that scenario unfold than for the sport to witness an outward supporter of murder honored on a podium.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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Tom
23 days ago

Agreed. Rylov is a POS.

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Sergiy Fesenko
23 days ago

Rylov probably have been paid to participate in propaganda concert, showing the whole nature of many Russians, – they will betray their ideals, humanity, they will sell their mothers if necessary to gain something.

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Herwig Bayer
23 days ago

John Lohn, don’t you have anything better to write about? Hint: How about keeping sports out of politics and politics out of sports?

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Jonny Sepp
23 days ago
Reply to  Herwig Bayer

Yes, Herwig – his speciality is targeting and decrying – a negativity based on ????

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James Auld
23 days ago

This thinking while completely appropriate aimed at Vladimir Putin may be less suitable for athletes trapped as citizens of a dictator. We all have a tendency to look at things only through our lenses. Perhaps the same actions toward Rulon are appropriate but without the vitriol. I would suspect that this is soviet era politics, at the least dissonant voices are silenced and at worst you wind up in the gulag. the true story will come out in the end, imagine your livelihood disappearing with an off hand comment. God bless America, we speak our minds, not so everywhere.

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Guimaraes Cayley
23 days ago

I couldn’t agree more. Excellent piece. As for him being a great athlete I vaguely remember talks on the deck in Tokyo by other athletes about his use of PED.

Just for consideration: I have a lot of Russian athlete friends, and they are being pursued and forced to support Putin, facing prison, loss of family members and other hideous threats. Most don’t have the luxury to remain neutral/silence.

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Veritas
22 days ago

If support of a murderous regime that is also your country is grounds to be disqualified from competing at international swimming events, then why are any Chinese swimmers allowed to compete? The Chinese CCP currently runs the largest system of concentrations camps in the world. It takes blood and DNA samples from Falun Gong members when they are imprisoned so that they can sell their organs to foreigner willing to pay cash for new transplanted organs. It previously murdered around 50,000,000 of its people during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. It just violated treaties and crushed Hong Kong. There is no reason to believe that there is a single member of the Chinese team that does not outwardly support their regime and participate in public events to demonstrate their support. They would not be the team if they publicly opposed the regime.

So, what neutral principle requires disqualifying Rylov while allowing the Chinese swimmers to compete?

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Veritas
22 days ago

There are many people that disagree with how the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and its military operations, including invasions of other countries from time to time. Let me make clear that I am not one of them and believe that most opponents of Israel have a large streak of anti-semitism running through them. But, this opposition includes a number of decisions by the UN and other international bodies condemning Israel. It also includes a number of proponents of the idea that various Israeli policies amount to genocide. Again, I think these opponents of Israel are wrong.

I believe that Israel has mandatory military service, which means that most of Israel’s international athletes have served in a military that performs acts that some call genocide. If FINA can ban Rylov for his support of his country, then why shouldn’t FINA ban Israeli athletes.

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Veritas
22 days ago

America was criticized for invading Iraq, and some opponents of this invasion claim that America has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. I supported this decision then and continue to support it now. Ι think that what we were doing clearly differs from what Russian was doing. But, others disagree. Many people, including many Americans, call America a racist country and believe America has committed genocide. I very strongly disagree with that.

There are quite a few American international athletes that extremely supportive of America publicly. Some, like Larsen Jenson, joined the US military while it was fighting a war that some have condemned as immoral and illegal. If you are okay with FINA banning Rylov, and Speedo breaching its contract with him, then how can you complain if FINA bans US athletes the next time they support American policy that is condemned by others?

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Veritas
22 days ago

Οne more thing. I am absolutely opposed to Russia invading Ukraine and think we should help the Ukrainians defend their country and help them rebuild afterwards.

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