Comment: The sporting consequences of Putin’s invasion

Two weeks on from Putin’s inhumane invasion of Ukraine, sport, which has for so long turned a blind eye to conflicts and authoritarian regimes, has finally been forced to pick-a-side.

FIFA has a long-standing relationship with Putin having awarded Russia the 2018 World Cup whilst ignoring Russia’s human rights abuses.

In 2019, footballer Mesut Özil spoke out against reported labour camps Uyghur Muslims were being subjected to in the Xinjiang region of China. In response, Arsenal released a statement saying the club ‘does not involve itself in politics.’

Three years on what’s changed?

Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from competing at the 2022 Winter Paralympics.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) originally permitted these athletes to compete stating that the athletes shouldn’t be seen as ‘aggressors’ and they did not have the authority to ban athletes since it was outside their jurisdiction.

A day later, the IPC announced Russian and Belarusian athletes will no longer be allowed to compete following other countries threatening not to participate if action was not taken.

FIFA came out with what has widely been regarded as a weak stance saying the Russian football team would be allowed to compete if they played at neutral stadiums, without their flag and anthem, under the name of ‘Football Union of Russia’ similarly to how Russian athletes competed at the 2020 Olympics.

Only after other European countries refused to play against any form of the Russian team, did FIFA change its stance. Russian football clubs and national teams have now been suspended from all competitions.

Meanwhile, other sports have acted more swiftly and decisively.

Formula 1 has terminated its contract with the Russian Grand Prix. Even though Russian drivers were allowed to participate, Nikita Mazepin had his contract terminated by Haas.

Both Russian and Belarus Tennis Federations have been suspended. World number one Daniil Medvedev will still be allowed to compete individually.

A further 24 sports have sanctioned Russian athletes, these include Basketball, Gymnastics, Rugby, Skating, Swimming as well as Judo of which Putin has been removed from his position on the governing board and his honorary black belt was stripped.

Despite this, is it fair athletes are punished for Putin’s actions?

After winning bids for the 2018 World Cup and the 2014 Winter Olympics, Putin’s prestige grew within the Russian population. Therefore, banning Russia from most sports should create an adverse reaction amongst Russians.

Moreover, continuing events in Russia will only generate more revenue for the Russian economy and the Putin regime to fund the invasion.

 It is morally inconceivable for Russians to participate freely in sport whilst Ukrainians are unable to, as they defend their country. Athletes are made to pay the consequences for Putin’s actions, but it is a necessary move to show that sport stands with Ukraine.

After many weak statements and poor decisions following past conflicts, it is promising that sport is finally leaving behind its neutrality and is picking a side. The correct side.

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Dan Laughlan

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August 2022
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