Sports

A STATE UNITEDIN OUTRAGE

Anger over a disallowed goal in the Winter Olympics ice hockey has united host nation Russia, though not for the reasons President Vladimir Putin would have wanted.

The American referee's refusal to count what would have been a winning goal for Russia against the United States last Saturday outraged fans from across the political divide in the country, breaking down barriers in a way that almost nothing else can in the country.

After the 3-2 defeat, Alexi Pushkov, head of the Russian Parliament's foreign affairs committee, suggested skullduggery behind the call because the official who made it, Brad Meier, is American.

"How can a referee from the USA judge the US team?!" Pushkov tweeted in Russian.

"The puck was in the goal. What an abomination! Cheating in front of the whole world!! Disgusting."

At the other end of the political spectrum, opposition leader Alexei Navalny backed the torrent of abuse about the disallowed goal that quickly flooded Twitter:

"I go along with everything that's been said about the referee."

Prominent gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev, at odds with Putin over a law banning homosexual propaganda among minors that overshadowed the Games preparations, was left in shock.

HUGE SCANDAL

"There's a huge scandal in the hockey tournament. The American referee didn't allow the Russian goal. Damn!" he wrote, also on Twitter.

Uniting his fractured nation is a goal at the Games for Putin as he tries to rally support after big protests against him in the winter and spring of 2011 and 2012, although this may not have been what he wished for.

For Russia, winning the men's hockey gold at these Olympics is everything, and the president was crestfallen as he left the stadium after the shoot-out.

Fyodor Tyutin looked to have given the host nation a late victory, only for referee Meier to disallow the goal. The goal was disallowed because although the puck went into the net, the net was slightly off its moorings.

"Sport is sport," President Putin said later.

He refused to be drawn into criticism of the referee, not taking the bait when a Ukrainian Olympic team official, sitting across the table, questioned the decision and said: "It's the Americans again."

Putin laughed and said those were the Ukrainian official's words, not his own.

The Ice Hockey Federation joined the fray, issuing a statement saying that "upon reviewing the goal, the net had clearly been displaced prior to the puck going into the net".

"The IIHF referee supervisor Konstantin Komissarov confirmed that the ruling made by referees Brad Meier and Marcus Vinnerborg was the correct call and that the proper procedure had been followed with regards to the video review."

It hardly calmed the host nation.

"It's clear from the (TV) replay. A perfect goal!" a centrist opposition parliamentarian, Dmitry Gudkov, wrote.

The Americans secured top spot in Group A after a 5-1 thumping of Slovenia yesterday, while the Russians struggled to a 1-0 shoot-out win over Slovakia.

The US will have a bye into the last eight, while the hosts, who finished runners-up in the group, will now have to rely on having the best second-place record to secure their free pass into the quarter-finals. - Wire Services.

WINTER OLYMPICS