Russia Gets Shunned by the Sports World as a Result of Its Invasion of Ukraine
Foreign Policy Brief #151 | By: Reilly Fitzgerald | March 30, 2022
Header photo taken from: Sky News
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Photo taken from: The Canberra Times
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seen an outpouring of support for Ukrainians from every facet of the Western world. One of the largest initial reactions to the war has come from the sports world which banded together following the Olympics and showed a united front against Putin’s war. Numerous countries and sports leagues around the world took action, perhaps faster than governments did in condemning the violent and atrocious war in Ukraine. These reactions took place within hours and days of the start of the war.
Manchester United’s interim manager, Ralf Rangnick (a German), led his team and the opposing Watford team in a pre-match ceremony with a sign that said “peace” in several languages. Manchester City FC wore shirts with the Ukrainian flag on them during their pre-match routine to honor their Ukrainian teammate Oleksander Zinchenko. Norway, as a country, banned Russian athletes from competing in FIS World Cup nordic ski races. Russian tennis star, Andrey Rublev, wrote a statement on a camera lens that read “No War Please”, as an act of defiance against his country’s military action.
Exclusion from the world of sports is a serious show of soft power from various international organizations, it denies leaders like Putin the ability to put their country on display on a prestigious global stage. As we have seen throughout history, major international sports contests are highly linked to political events and aspirations of countries and leaders alike. The major global sporting events in the modern day are the Olympics and and the FIFA World Cup in soccer/football. Russia has been banned by both of these organizations.
The war in Ukraine is not the first time that Russia has been sanctioned by the sports community. Following their scandalous creation of a state-run doping program during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, there was a ban on using the name of “Russian Federation” and the usage of the Russian flag for athletes at the Olympic games. Instead, those athletes were referred to as “athletes from Russian” and most recently at the 2022 Beijing Games, they were called the “Russian Olympic Committee”. At the 2014 Olympic Games, hundreds of Russian athletes were complicit in this doping program that not only utilized performance enhancing drugs but actively used the Russian intelligence agency, the FSB, to surreptitiously compromise data relating to positive test results amongst Russian athletes and tampering with urine samples prior to testing for banned substances. Supposedly, the pressure of being the host nation for those Winter Games led the Kremlin to authorize this program.
Photo taken from: Peter Cziborra / Reuters
One of the largest continental sporting competitions, in Europe, is the UEFA Champions League football (soccer), which St. Petersburg was supposed to be hosting the final match in May. However, UEFA has reversed that decision and the final match will be played in Paris. Furthermore, all Russian teams in the Champions League’s preliminary rounds were banned from the competition, as well. Russia has also been entirely banned from the FIFA World Cup taking place in November and December in Qatar.
The soft power being exerted by non-governmental sporting organizations like FIFA, FIS, and many other sports bodies is rivaling the public perception that Putin has for so long tried to portray – one of being a part of the global community. This war, however, has proven how Putin does not intend to be a part of the community and abide by the norms of how nation-states are supposed to behave.
Participating in international sports competitions is a non-combative way for nations to show dominance against the other; the actions of competing make for great sport displays, but are also just as much political events.
According to the BBC, the sports in which Russia has been banned from international competitions are as follows: soccer (football), rugby, Formula 1, The Diamond League (Track and Field), WorldTour Pro Cycling has been Russian teams, World Rowing, Volleyball, Archery, Badminton, Basketball, and others. The show of unity across the sports leagues of the world has sent a strong message: Participation in these events is a privilege in the world, and not a right given to every country.
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International Olympic Committee Recommendation (https://olympics.com/ioc/news/ioc-eb-recommends-no-participation-of-russian-and-belarusian-athletes-and-officials )