The Effects of The War in Ukraine on Russian Athletes
Foreign Policy Brief #154 | By: Reilly Fitzgerald | April 24, 2022
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The war in Ukraine has affected many people throughout Europe either directly as participants or indirectly as citizens impacted by loss or violence, or by being impacted by sanctions. In a previous Brief, I wrote about how the sports world rallied against Russian and Belarussian athletes and banned them from major sporting events and leagues, such as the FIFA World Cup. This year’s Boston Marathon can be added to the list of events banning these athletes, as well.
The latest controversy regarding Russian athletes is the Wimbledon tennis tournament, in England, banning Russian athletes in accordance with UK guidelines. The ban on these athletes includes many of the world’s top male and female players such as Daniil Medvedev and Aryna Sabalenka. According to Al Jazeera, the last time Wimbledon banned players based on their countries was during World War II when they banned German and Japanese athletes.
The UK government is in full support of excluding athletes from Russia as part of a larger effort to alienate the Russian government and the citizens of Russia as punishment for their unjust and inhumane war in Ukraine. However, some of the athlete associations are asking if there is a better way to tackle this issue rather than having a blanket ban on all Russians and Belarussians.
The larger question regarding the banning of Russian and Belarussian athletes is, should it apply to athletes who openly oppose the war and/or Vladimir Putin? An interesting example is Andrey Rublev. He wrote “No War Please” on a TV camera lens after advancing to the final match of the Dubai Championship. Is this sort of outward expression of anti-war sentiment something to be considered when banning athletes from sports based on the actions of their governmental leaders?
Currently, the ban is staying in place. Even with criticism of it coming from high-profile players like Novak Djokovic, who earlier in the season got into trouble in Australia for fighting against their vaccination mandate, he feels as though the ban on Russian and Belarussian players is ‘crazy’, according to CNN.
Top Russian player Daniil Medvedev has warned that if he speaks out against Russian President Vladimir Putin, he is concerned that his family will be at-risk in Russia.
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Putin and his cronies have a history of coming after citizens who speak out against him and his regime, and not all of these are political opposition leaders like Alexander Navalny. Putin has had everyday citizens arrested for attending anti-war protests at the start of his war in Ukraine, he has arrested people throughout his time in charge for disobeying his rule and criticizing his laws, such as the band Pussy Riot which has been arrested multiple times for protesting his anti-LGBTQ laws.
The ideas around having athletes renounce their leader in exchange for being able to participate in global sports tournaments is not a terrible one. Putin perhaps values nothing more than his self-image and the national image of Russia; allowing athletes to participate in exchange for their voice being added against him could be a short-term solution.
Though, the athletes and their sporting federations would need to figure out how to protect family members in Russia while this occurred. One would also have to ensure that their statements of renunciation were not disingenuous as well. Another idea to consider also is what happens after this war ends? If Ukraine and the West are successful, do they allow these Russian players to represent a country that has caused the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II to compete or do we continue with these boycotts?
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Statement Regarding Russian and Belarusian Individuals at The Championships 2022, Wimbledon (https://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/news/articles/2022-04-20/statement_regarding_russian_and_belarusian_individuals_at_the_championships_2022.html)