Rimsaite not allowed to represent Russia in London

  • 2012-02-02
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

JUST SAY “NO” TO MOSCOW’S PRESSURE: The Lithuanian National Olympic Committee votes on the issue of Donata Rimsaite.

VILNIUS - On Jan. 27, the general assembly of the Lithuanian National Olympic Committee gathered for its session in the Karolina Hotel in Vilnius and rejected the wishes of pentathlete Donata Rimsaite, 24, to represent Russia in the Olympic Games in London this year. The pentathlon is the competition that includes swimming, running, shooting, show jumping on horseback, and fencing. Lithuania received a lot of pressure to allow Rimsaite to represent Russia from Vyacheslav Aminov, a millionaire businessman rumored to be a friend of Vladimir Putin. He is chairman of the board of Russia’s Interregional Post Bank and the co-owner of Nefte Trans Service, specializing in the transportation of oil and oil products in Russia. Aminov is also the president of Russian Modern Pentathlon Federation as well as a vice-president of the executive board of the International Modern Pentathlon Union.

On Dec. 6, during the OSCE meeting in Vilnius, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had a bilateral meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart, Audronius Azubalis, and, according to the Web site of the Russian Foreign Ministry, pushed him to allow Rimsaite to represent Russia in London, although such a decision is the competence of the Lithuanian National Olympic Committee.

On Jan. 27, the issue of Rimsaite provoked heated debates in the conference hall of Karolina Hotel. Although after the decision of the general assembly of the Lithuanian National Olympic Committee, Akimov told Russia’s media that Rimsaite was not allowed to speak at the assembly, in fact, she gave a tearful speech to the assembly before the vote, although on the eve of that day she wrote to the assembly that she would not be able to participate in the discussion due to medical procedures scheduled for that day.

Rimsaite left Lithuania on the eve of Christmas of 2010, and the next year she married a Russian citizen, received Russian citizenship and started to represent Russia in international competitions. “Until now, her apparent husband did not show up anywhere, even in Russia,” wrote the daily Lietuvos Rytas on Jan. 29. According to the ranking by the International Modern Pentathlon Union, Rimsaite is No. 23 in the world, while Lithuanian representative Laura Asadauskaite is No. 3 (Asadauskaite is the wife of Lithuanian pentathlete Andrejus Zadneprovskis, who won silver in the 2004 Athens Olympics, while in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he won the bronze, leaving the silver medal for another Lithuanian, Edvinas Krungolcas).

“The most important goal of every woman is family. There are many examples when athletes changed their country and have avoided condemnation. I didn’t abandon my Lithuanian roots. I didn’t change my family name. All of my victories will always be associated with Lithuania. Most people close to me know that I really miss my country,” Rimsaite said at the general assembly meeting.

Viktoras Majauskas, president of the Lithuanian Modern Pentathlon Federation, said that he will resign if Rimsaite is allowed to represent Russia.

“I don’t see a problem with a change of citizenship, but this case looks like some purchasing act,” Daina Gudzineviciute, the gold medal winner in trap shooting in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, said. Earlier, Rimsaite told Lithuania’s TV3 that she received much bigger financial support for her sports activities in Russia than in Lithuania.

Arturas Poviliunas, the head of the Lithuanian National Olympic Committee, pointed to article No. 42 of the Olympic Charter, which states that when a competitor changes nationality, he or she must wait three years before he or she can represent his or her new country in the Olympics, unless a national Olympic committee of his or her former country allows to him or her to represent another country at the Olympics. Poviliunas said that Lithuania invested a lot of money in Rimsaite, and she left for Russia without informing the Lithuanian National Olympic Committee.

The voting results at the general assembly of Jan. 27 were the following: 49 voted against permission for Rimsaite to represent Russia, seven abstained and one voted in favor of allowing her to represent Russia.

“I feel pity to her as a human being. She, representing Lithuania, won some medals in championships of Europe and the world,” Virgilijus Alekna, two-time Olympic champion in the discus throw and who will also take part in the London Olympics, said, explaining why he abstained.

“The best judge for Rimsaite will be her conscience,” said Virmantas Galdikas, secretary general of the Lithuanian Canoeing Sports Federation, who voted for allowing Rimsaite to represent Russia in London. Now Rimsaite will be able to participate only in the Olympics in Rio in 2016.