Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to calls for a Russian ban on all sport, which means by extension that Russian athletes could be asked to pay the price for President Vladimir Putin’s decision to ‘go to war.
Putin has a reputation for openly displaying his strongman image and, like most politicians, is keen to be photographed with his country’s sports superstars.
But some of those same athletes are showing a strength of their own by openly criticizing their president’s decision.
Major sporting events to be held in Russia have been canceled or moved; FIFA banned “Russia” from all competitions, allowing players to compete under the “Football Union of Russia” banner without the flag or national anthem; athletes from elsewhere who live and compete in Russia are considering their options.
What about Russian athletes?
One of Russia’s most recognized footballers, Fedor Smolov, a national team player currently under contract with Dynamo Moscow, posted a black square on Instagram with the trending hashtag in Russian #NOtowar. His position was appreciated by others, including Matildas captain Sam Kerr.
NHL and national ice hockey team player Nikita Zadorov posted a black square on Instagram with “NO WAR” in red lettering.
Fellow NHLer Alex Ovechkin, a three-time world championship gold medalist and current Washington Capitals captain, told a news conference he has friends in Russia and Ukraine.
“Please no more war. It doesn’t matter who is at war – Russia, Ukraine, different countries – we have to live in peace,” he said.
Asked about his previous support for Mr Putin, he said: “He’s my president. But as I said, I’m not in politics. I’m an athlete. I hope everything will be done soon. It’s a difficult situation at the moment for both parties.”
Two-time European biathlon champion Larisa Kuklina posted an image of herself with a split heart showing the color of the flags of Russia and Ukraine with the caption: “What is is going on? Pull up! We live in the 21st century!”
Tennis player Andrey Rublev, while competing in the Dubai Open final this weekend, wrote on a live streamed camera lens, “No war please”.
So far, no repercussions have been reported for athletes who have spoken.
The story is further complicated by the large number of Russian-Ukrainians who, like all people of mixed background who find themselves in the midst of conflict, feel victimized on two fronts.
Figure skater Tatiana Volosozhar, who won two Olympic medals and four world championships for Russia, originally skated for Ukraine, where she was born to Russian parents. His father, sisters and grandmother still live in Ukraine.
She posted a black square with the hashtag NO to war.
“War is the scariest thing that can be. That it will happen in 2022 is unimaginable. But it is even more painful to see and read online fights between ordinary people, Ukrainians and Russians. I am sure no sane person thinks about war that’s fine,” she wrote in a separate post.
“Please take care of each other, don’t fight, support each other, it’s not easy for everyone.
“There is only one truth in this situation: peace is good, war is bad.”
FIFA embarks on Olympic path – considering other options
Football’s world governing body, FIFA, is currently seeking a solution with opponents not wishing to face Russia in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in Qatar later this year.
Nothing in the sport’s regulations allows governing bodies to suspend a football association because of an armed conflict, but the FIFA Council announced on Sunday evening – as a first step – that the teams would no longer represent Russia but would instead be called the Football Union. of Russia.
That this change in Olympic style – Russian Olympians and Paralympians have been representing the Russian Olympic Committee since state-sponsored doping was exposed ahead of the Rio 2016 Games – is enough for countries that have already said they will not play not against Russia remains to be determined.
Under current rules, any nation that refuses to play a match forfeits all points, with the other team receiving points equal to a win. Again, this is a hotly debated issue for nations who take a moral stand against any team coming out of Russia, whatever their name.
The Ticket understands that member confederations are being consulted with an option to allow athletes to compete under a neutral banner as Olympic athletes from Russia were able to do under the Olympic flag.
Athletes competing under a neutral flag
FIFA says it is still considering other options, but at the moment is largely following the International Olympic Committee’s adoption of athletes allowed to compete under a neutral flag.
The Olympic solution was heavily criticized by the West, but was designed to find a way for Russia’s clean athletes to be able to compete and not be penalized for the country’s state-sanctioned doping program since the Games. 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Australian athletes have also benefited in the past from being able to compete under a neutral flag. The Australian government, led by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, decided to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics due to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
124 Australian athletes marched under the Olympic flag.
The Australian Olympic Committee website describes the pressure on athletes at the time to boycott the Games as “a sad moment, with young athletes being forced to do the dirty work of politicians”.
“Many sports careers were cruelly affected by the events of 1980,” he continues.
AOC director and chairman of Volleyball Australia Craig Carracter supports the Olympic approach – ban the nation, not the players.
This week, the international volleyball federation, the FIVB, withdrew the VNL from Russia – its version of the Champions League football.
“The FIVB will move the VNL rounds to Russia and allow teams to compete, but I also request that the men’s world championships later this year in Russia be moved, which is being considered in Lausanne. [head office]“, Carraccer said.
Former Australian Olympic swimming medalist Rob Woodhouse, who competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, manages elite athletes in the UK and was until recently manager of one of the League’s professional teams international swimming competition supported by Russian-Ukrainian businessman Konstantin Grigorishin.
“Athletes don’t want to compete against Russian athletes for the foreseeable future,” Woodhouse told The Ticket.
Although, he says, it’s not about athletes being held accountable for political decisions beyond their control.
“It’s more of an opinion that preventing Russian athletes and federations from competing internationally will somehow make a difference with other measures against Russia,” he said.
An ultimatum signed by some Ukrainian athletes has been sent to the presidents of the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee demanding that all Russian and Belarusian athletes be banned from international sport.
“Your inaction will send a message to every athlete and to the world that you have chosen the interests of Russia and Belarus over the interests of the athletes. Your legacy will be defined by your actions.”
While some are pushing for Russians to be suspended from world sport altogether, others wish to remind those with such a vision that athletes from the United States and its allies have never been suspended from world sport due to the their country’s involvement in the war in Iraq.