Some sports federations believe that Russia’s cruel war in Ukraine is insufficient to ban Russians and Belarusians from international competitions.
As a result, several of these federations invite representatives from the states which are waging war against Ukraine to competitions. Russia recognized as a state sponsor of terrorism, whose war was condemned by the overwhelming majority in the UN Assembly and whose dictator is wanted by the International Criminal Court, is still welcomed at some sports events.
This fact should be seen in the context that sports and politics in the Russian Federation are closely connected. And many Russian sports stars showed their support for Putin’s regime.
Picture: IOC President Thomas Bach and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin / photo by kremlin.ru
International Olympic Committee’s decision
The International Olympic Committee waited 13 months to change its mind about Russians and Belarusians. The IOC prohibited representatives of Russia, a war aggressor state, from international contests on February 28, 2022. On March 28, 2023, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suggested that international federations reintroduce Russians and Belarusians in international competitions.
However, the IOC decided to move all of the negative consequences of this decision away from itself and onto the same international federations. After all, this is merely a “recommendation,” and the international federations should make the final decision based on the same IOC rules for Russian and Belarussian competitors.
In an interview with Channel 24, Ukrainian skeleton racer Vladyslav Geraskevych stated that the International Olympic Committee’s decision has put international federations under significant pressure. Some federations can withstand such pressure and keep Russians and Belarusians from competing in international events. Some, though, cannot.
However, several federations did not require IOC pressure. After all, they had previously succumbed to Russian “temptations.” The following federations have voted to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete in international competitions.
Fencing: staying ahead of the competition
For the first time, the IOC stated that Russians and Belarusians might compete in international competitions again on January 25, 2023. However, they were considering potential choices before making a final decision.
The International Fencing Federation (FIE) announced its decision to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete. They conducted an emergency congress on March 10 and determined to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete in tournaments in compliance with the IOC’s rules.
Alisher Usmanov, a Russian oligarch close to the Puti’s regime, has been the FIE’s president since December 2008, and his enterprises have been the federation’s primary sponsors. And he would have stayed much in the future if the sanctions placed on him had not been applied.
As a result, Usmanov “temporarily suspended his powers as president of the FIE” in March 2022. But, after that, did the Russian oligarch lose power in the federation? Hardly. Ukraine’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Vadym Huttsayt, has confirmed that the FIE is under Russian control, despite the fact that Huttsayt is a member of the FIE executive committee.
The World Taekwondo Federation Council announced on April 3 that Russians and Belarusians would be permitted to compete in a neutral status. Simultaneously, it was decided to allow them to compete in the World Championships, which will be held in Baku in May 2023.
Thus, World Taekwondo promised a three-stage certification of Russian athletes’ “neutrality,” but they can find a way to get it.
Nenad Lalovic of Serbia is the president of the United Wrestling World (UWW). He enjoys excellent relations with the Russians. Lalovic has long desired to get Russians and Belarusians back into the sport, according to Ukrainian wrestler, Olympic champion, and MP Zhan Beleniuk. He did not want to do it faster than everyone else but rather to await the IOC’s “permission.”
However, the UWW did not end there. On April 4, the executive committee approved not only the participation of Russian and Belarussian wrestlers in international competitions. The UWW resolved to make a second application to the IOC, requesting that the requirements for permitting Russian and Belarussian athletes to compete in international tournaments be relaxed.
First and foremost, we are discussing athletes who have contracts with the Russian army of invaders.
The crucial fact is that the UWW has not even established a panel to screen Russian and Belarussian athletes for security or military duty.
The International Swimming Federation (World Aquatics) has also “considered” the IOC’s request to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete in international events. They have yet to make a final choice. They have formed a special committee to look into this matter. They will make a final decision on this in July 2023.
Tennis, soccer, chess, and boxing
However, other sports are extremely popular, and the International Olympic Committee has little influence over them. And, despite the IOC’s guidelines, they make their own decisions.
The ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) and the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) manage the show in professional tennis, for example. And Russians and Belarusians were not barred from participating in international contests.
They could only force them to play under a neutral flag. When Russians and Belarusians were barred from competing in the United Kingdom in 2022, the local tennis organization was also punished.
In football, the decision to suspend Russian national teams and clubs was solely at the discretion of UEFA. They did make this decision. It was, however, with opposition from other European countries that refused to play against Russia. And the threats were effective.
This suspension, however, only applies to official matches. The Russian national team is capable of playing friendly games. And even take part in friendly competitions. It even reached the point where the Russian U-16 women’s national football team travelled to Bangladesh to compete under their flag and name. Even though it was their initiative, UEFA shrugged it off.
On the other hand, boxing is a sport where even the IOC is powerless to block Russian power. And nothing is strange here, either, considering Russian Umar Kremliov leads the International Boxing Association (IBA), and Gazprom is the principal sponsor.
On October 5, 2022, the IBA agreed not only to enable Russians and Belarusians to compete in international events but also under its flag and identity rather than as “neutral athletes.”
On the other hand, the IBA and the IOC have a strained relationship. So far, the selection for the 2024 Olympics will be handled through the IOC rather than the federation.
There has been a campaign on social media asking to ban Russian athletes from the Paris 2024 Olympics. The call for a ban on Russians because of Moscow’s war against Ukraine received the support of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
Will the campaign achieve its goal as Russia’s war is going on? The pressure on the IOC committee mounts, and soon they will need to review the possible consequences of allowing Russians to compete.