Geoff Berkeley

Wearing a plain white judogi with no national symbols or emblems, Arman Adamian stepped atop of the podium to collect his gold medal here.

The anthem of the International Judo Federation then rang out at the Ali Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah Arena while a flag featuring the logo of Doha 2023 rose alongside the national flags of the other medallists from the Czech Republic, Israel and Azerbaijan.

It must have been a surreal experience for Adamian who had become world champion for the first time but not as a member of the Russian team.

It was a snapshot of what other Russian athletes can expect when winning titles in sports that have adhered to the International Olympic Committee’s recommendations.

Adamian, like lots of other Russian judoka, have been frozen out of sport for many months, with his last international outing coming at the Ulaanbaatar Grand Slam in June 2022.

With no exposure to high-level competition since then, the majority of athletes from either Russia or Belarus have struggled to hit the ground running on their return to the global sporting stage in Doha this week.

But Adamian showed no signs of rustiness as he ruthlessly dismissed his opponents on his way to the final where he defeated the experienced Czech fighter Lukáš Krpálek, the double world and Olympic champion.

"It’s been a long journey to get here and now I am the world champion," Adamian told reporters after his victory.

Arman Adamian was the only member of the
Arman Adamian was the only member of the "individual neutral athlete" delegation to win gold in Doha ©Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin is a great lover of judo having become a black belt in the sport and had been a regular visitor to IJF events, including the 2021 World Championships in Budapest.

He also co-authored a book titled "Judo: History, Theory, Practice" and produced an instructional DVD on the martial art in 2008 called "Let’s Learn Judo with Vladmir Putin".

That year saw him awarded the Honorary President status by the IJF.

Putin was removed from that position after he had ordered the invasion of Ukraine as the IJF, headed by Marius Vizer, tried to distance themselves from the Russian leader while war raged.

But Putin would have taken great pleasure in witnessing Adamian’s triumph from the Kremlin, and he was quick to shower him with praise following his victory.

"I sincerely congratulate you on your triumph," said Putin.

"At the World Championships in Qatar, you convincingly confirmed your leadership qualities, demonstrated your character and will, and wrote a bright page in the victorious chronicle of the national judo school."

It is not the first time Putin has hailed a Russian athlete in recent months following success on the big stage as he congratulated Anastasiia Demurchian after she won gold at the International Boxing Association Women’s World Championships in New Delhi in March - and it is unlikely to be the last.

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Arman Adamian for his success in the men's under-100kg division ©Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Arman Adamian for his success in the men's under-100kg division ©Getty Images

Critics of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision to open the door to Russian and Belarusian participation under strict conditions of neutrality have warned that every success they achieve will be used by Putin for propaganda reasons.

Putin may well have been off his chair celebrating when Russian Inal Tasoev thought he had registered the match-winning score in a thrilling men’s over-100 kilograms final against French great Teddy Riner tonight.

But the score was not given as Tasoev had to settle for silver after Riner pulled off a stunning throw for a waza-ari to capture his 11th world title.

The performances of Adamian and Tasoev would have boosted their hopes of reaching next year’s Olympics in Paris, although a decision on the admission of Russia and Belarus for the Games has yet to be made.

They were two of the 17 Russian judoka that were given permission to compete under the title "individual neutral athletes" or the acronym "AIN" in Doha after passing independent background checks that found no evidence of support for the war in Ukraine, according to the IJF.

Although they were competing as neutrals, the Russian Judo Federation claimed Adamian had won gold for "our country" when revealing plans for fans to celebrate his success upon his arrival in Moscow today.

The governing body also argued that "everyone" was happy with the return of its athletes with "no one determined to stir up a scandal".

Double world champion Daria Bilodid did not compete in Doha after Ukraine opted to boycott the tournament over the presence of Russia and Belarus ©Getty Images
Double world champion Daria Bilodid did not compete in Doha after Ukraine opted to boycott the tournament over the presence of Russia and Belarus ©Getty Images

France Judo President Stéphane Nomis expressed his desire to see Russian judoka compete at Paris 2024, insisting that he did not want them to be the "biggest loser", while IJF director general Vlad Marinescu said it would be "unfair" to deny them the chance to qualify for the Games.

But it’s Ukrainian athletes which face suffering the greatest blow in all of this having boycotted the World Championships in protest of the IJF’s decision to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete.

With the country remaining under attack from Russian forces with the assistance of Belarus, the Ukrainian Judo Federation announced its withdrawal from the event.

The move came after the Ukrainian Government adopted a resolution punishing National Federations whose athletes participate in competitions involving Russia and Belarus.

During this year’s event, a video has been played on the big screen promoting the Olympics in Paris and features Ukraine’s Daria Bilodid.

But the double world champion, who slammed the IJF’s decision to readmit Russians and Belarusians as neutrals as "unacceptable", faces missing the Games should athletes from the two countries continue to compete and Ukraine maintain its stance.

Marinescu has refuted allegations by Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Guttsait that the IJF had allowed military personnel to compete at the World Championships, stressing that all athletes are employed by the Federal Training Center.

Spectators wearing a Russian military symbol were thrown out of the venue after they refused to remove them ©JudoTV
Spectators wearing a Russian military symbol were thrown out of the venue after they refused to remove them ©JudoTV

While athletes have been forbidden from wearing national symbols, a group of spectators caused a stir when they were seen with the Ribbon of St George fastened to their tops.

The orange-and-black emblem is viewed by many Ukrainians as a symbol of Russian aggression and is banned in several European countries.

As insidethegames exclusively revealed, the spectators were thrown out and banned for the rest of the tournament after they refused to remove the Russian military symbol.

Ukrainian skeleton racer Vladyslav Heraskevych posted the image of the three individuals on Twitter, accusing the IJF and the IOC of creating a "platform for promoting Russian narratives and terrorists symbols".

Russian State Duma deputy Svetlana Zhurova responded by describing the incident as "another provocation from Ukraine".

While the situation was swiftly dealt with by the IJF, it is another example of the issues the IOC, International Federations and tournament organisers face when attempting to avoid becoming a target for pro-Putin supporters.

You only need to look back to this year’s Australian Open - an event that permitted Russians and Belarusians to play under a neutral banner - when spectators held flags featuring an image of Putin.

With his gold medal around his neck, Adamian will arrive home as a world champion and there is no doubt that his neutral status will be long forgotten when he returns to a hero’s welcome in Moscow.