The IOC, FIFA, Premier League have long flirted with autocrats

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Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine has alienated international athletics commissions from Russia.  But they have put up with Putin's authoritarianism for far too long.

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has alienated international athletics commissions from Russia. But they have put up with Putin’s authoritarianism for far too long.
Drawing: Getty Images

The balance sheet has finally come for sports organizations that have played football with autocratic nations. And not just FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, but for the Premier League, Formula 1 and any sports league that has cashed checks from dodgy international sources while pretending business is business.

The world order has been disrupted, and as such, so are the games.

On Monday, Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina refused to play a match against an opponent representing Russia or Belarus. She doesn’t blame the players, she said, but she is unwilling to pretend that her country is not under serious threat from a player on the other side of the pitch.

“… We – Ukrainian players – have asked the ATP, WTA and ITF to follow the IOC recommendations to accept Russian or Belarusian nationals only as neutral athletes, without displaying any symbols , colors, flags or national anthems,” Svitolina said on social media. .

ATP player Sergiy Stakhovsky said to have joined the Ukrainian reserves.

Sport is always linked to politics, but most of the time there are more benefits to allowing free global competition than keeping a record to show how often nations deviate from international values ​​- a record which would reveal the United States as much as any other.

But there are times like the one we are currently facing.

As we watch Russian President Vladimir Putin once again kill peaceful citizens in the name of empire, it should be noted that this is not the first time. This is a sports publication, but many outlets have detailed the times when Russia has been destructive in recent years, whether in Chechnya, the Republic of Georgia, Crimea or Syria, or by weaponizing disinformation in free elections abroad. The Mueller report found Putin was very active during the 2016 US elections.

Putin’s own political opponent, Alexei Navalny, is on trial after surviving a grave threat to his life, facing 20 years in prison on charges few outside Russia think have any basis in fact.

These things all happened before the invasion of Ukraine last week. At any time, sports leagues and governing bodies could have refused to take Russian money and pretended that Russia was just another player in the pantheon of nations. They could have refused to use Russian venues as home sites or buy teams, but the facade of normality prevailed. They could not have helped to publicize these brutal dictators, and allowed them to prance on the biggest sporting stages in the world.

For this reason, Putin himself visited Beijing last month for the start of the Olympics and to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping. On February 11, Ukrainian skeleton racer Vladyslav Heraskevych held up a sign that read “No war in Ukraine.” It has been said he could be cited for breaking the rules against political speech during the Olympics.

If you really mean breaking Olympic rules, though, it’s always been Putin’s Russia. The team was found to have instituted a comprehensive program to replace dirty urine samples from its athletes, and was unable to compete as a nation (again) this year in Beijing. But that didn’t stop Russian athletes from making headlines for doping, after 15-year-old skater Kamila Valieva won gold and then had a sample returned. with proof of a banned substance and two other heart medications.

But the most sacred Olympic tradition that Russia broke was the international break. Although the first part of the Olympics is over, the Paralympics begin on Friday and the international break continues during this period.

The IOC has published A declaration on this offence. “… IOC President Thomas Bach reiterates his call for peace, which he expressed in his speeches at the Opening ceremony and the Closing ceremony of the Olympic Games. »

As the tanks roll towards Kiev, it is too late for statements and speeches. Bullies only understand responsibility, and it didn’t come in time. Bach instead chose to impose rules on athletes who use their platforms to discuss injustice, not on the perpetrators of injustice themselves.

So now, here is the balance sheet. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea football club, has handed over the management of his club to an affiliated charity in what appears to be a hedge against the team being withdrawn. The IOC is (belatedly) recommending that sports leagues only allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete nationally neutrally. FIFA banned Russia from the World Cup, but only after many nations objected to playing against the team or at Russian venues.

Closing the barn door after the horse is out.

There is no excluding politics from international sports. To pretend that you can draw a line between the two is simply to silence dissent. The only way to go is to have clear eyes on the historical and humanitarian context that each nation brings to the competition and to have clear and enforceable standards.

Sports leagues have turned a blind eye for far too long.


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