Dedication to sport and physical prowess have been key elements in the construction of Vladimir Putin’s image since his rise to the Presidency of Russia. Domestically, the Kremlin has promoted a public representation of the President as a strong, energetic, decisive leader who is ‘fit for the job’. Constant emphasis has been placed on how sports – especially judo and those harking back to the Soviet past, such as sambo – forged the manly qualities of Putin, turning him into the living paradigm of Russian hegemonic masculinity. At the international level, Putin’s vigorous and masculine leadership has been turned into a proxy for Russia’s restored status: in the early 2000s, to mark a neat break from the ‘decadence’ of the 1990s; subsequently, to suggest the return of Russia to its great-power status. Hostility against human – especially LGBT – rights in sport has become central to this discourse, not only because they are suggestive of alleged Western decadence, but also because they threaten the gender norms and public image on which Putin’s leadership has been built.
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