The sports world shunned Russian President Vladimir Putin. So what?


Russia is already paying the price for its aggression – countries around the world are imposing sanctions and the Russian ruble has plunged further against the dollar, reaching record highs.

“The situation is monstrous, of course. It’s a shame for the International Paralympic Committee,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters after the decision.

The IOC also announced that it had stripped Putin of the Olympic Order – the highest honor in the Olympic movement.

“The IOC was seen as having a close relationship with Russia,” Michael Payne, a former CIO marketing manager, told CNN.

“The fact that the IOC has now issued a series of sanctions against Russia, which in my opinion are probably the most severe sanctions the IOC has ever issued…since probably the early 1960s when the IOC banned South Africa for its apartheid regime,” he said.

Meanwhile, world football’s governing body, FIFA, and European football’s governing body, UEFA, have suspended all Russian international and club teams in their competitions “until further notice”.

“Vladimir Putin is both passionate about sport and uses sport to project Russia’s importance on the world stage and restore the Russian people’s sense of pride in their success on the world stage.”

Payne added that the most immediate impact of the sanctions could be to challenge the Kremlin’s narrative of the conflict, with ordinary Russians wondering what happened to the events they had to stage.

UEFA announced last month that this year’s Champions League final will no longer take place at Saint Petersburg’s Krestovsky Stadium, sponsored by Russian state-owned Gazprom, and will now be moved to Stade de France. in Paris to be played on the original date of May 28.

“There can be no misunderstanding: no degree of control of the Russian media is able to explain what is happening in the sports world, that they have suddenly been banned,” Payne said.

Russia covers the country’s invasion of Ukraine very differently from CNN and other Western media. A new law prohibited media operating in Russia to use the words “war”, “attack” or “invasion” to describe Putin’s decision to unleash his forces against Ukraine. Instead, they must use the Kremlin’s Orwellian phrase: “special military operation.”

Russians’ access to social media like Facebook and Twitter has also been severely restricted.

“Sanctions can make ordinary Russians wonder why they can’t see their Russian athletes perform? And clearly, that makes the Russian people say, ‘What’s going on? ‘” Payne said.

“Will Putin care about returning his Olympic gold or what the rest of the international world thinks of him? Probably not.

“Will he care what all the local Russians say, ‘Wait, what’s going on?’ Absoutely.”

Sport as a nationalist tool

Lukas Aubin, associate researcher at the French Institute of International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) and specialist in the geopolitics of Russia and sport, told CNN Sport that Putin takes care of his image so that observers are aware of his prowess. sports nationwide. and at the international level.

“When Putin came to power in 2000, one of his first decisions was to invite his former judo coach [to the Kremlin],” he said.

The Russian Prime Minister has also been photographed ice swimming, fishing and horseback riding shirtless.

Putin attends a Night Hockey League teams gala match at the Bolshoi Ice Arena on May 10, 2017 in Sochi, Russia.

“Today, President Putin uses sport as part of his power. And not just as part of his personality, because he has also created a great sports system. He uses oligarchs, politicians, former athletes to create a machine.

“It’s a big system, where people [are] pushed by Putin in the directions they need to create a good image of Russia in the sports world,” he added.

It worked for the most part, Aubin said.

“It worked because in 2014 we see the Sochi Olympics. Then four years later we see the World Cup. It’s really very difficult to say how many international sporting events Russia [has] hosted over the past 10 years – that’s really a lot. In the beginning, it was a huge piece of soft power,” Aubin added.

Vera Tolz, professor of Russian studies at the University of Manchester, told CNN Sport that Putin has used Russian nationalism “in an instrumental and very systematic way” as a way to legitimize his regime since coming to power.

Paralympic Winter Games: Ukrainian Athletes' My thoughts are with those fighting the invasion at home as they enjoy golden success in Beijing

“Nationalism – and the type of national unification with the promotion of particular versions of history, the organization, the establishment of new national holidays and, of course, sport – was absolutely the key to his strategy of legitimization,” she explained, adding that such tactics date back to the Soviet period, when sport was used “very intensively as a tool to keep people loyal to the regime.”

“Even the fact that the Kremlin in Russia went so far, using doping, in order to win more medals, kind of shows how competing and winning, winning was key to the strategy of Putin’s popular mobilization,” Tolz added. .

In 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has unanimously decided to ban Russia major international sporting competitions – including the Olympics and the World Cup – for four years for doping non-compliance.

WADA’s punishment relates to inconsistencies in data recovered by WADA in January 2019 from the Moscow lab at the center of the 2016 McLaren report, which uncovered an extensive and sophisticated state-sponsored sports doping ring.

“Every time you let Russia participate in an international sporting event, you’re basically agreeing to swim with man-eating sharks. They’ll fool your athletes, they won’t feel bad about it, they’ll lie about it, s ‘They’re caught, they’ll blame you for exposing it,’ Jim Walden, the U.S. attorney for Grigory Rodchenkov who was instrumental in exposing the initial Russian cover-up, told CNN.

Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, Putin expressed frustration with the “politicization of sport” and that “the rights and interests of our athletes must be protected from arbitrariness”.

The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) was initially found to be non-compliant after the publication of the McLaren report in 2016.
Putin attends the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on February 4.

Commissioned by WADA, the report revealed that the Russian state had conspired with athletes and sports officials to undertake a doping program unprecedented in its scope and ambition.

“Putin uses his control over sports a lot to try to play the world and win as much as possible, and also curates content for the Russian population so that he can achieve maximum popularity, which translates into maximum power for do what he wants internationally – essentially pitting Russia against the rest of the world, at least the rest of the western world,” Walden added.

Fast forward to 2022 and another doping scandal – around a Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva – eclipsed the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Valieva, 15, a Games star who scored highest in the figure skating team event, was allowed to compete despite testing positive for the banned heart drug trimetazidine, which is commonly used to treat people with angina pectoris. The failed test happened before the Winter Olympics but was only revealed during the Games, and it remains unclear whether the doping test controversy will see the medal revoked.

“Not only is Russia myopically focused on winning at all costs, but cost-wise it’s not forbidden, is it? So murder, bribery, drug trafficking, any type of crime that will give them an advantage. They believe that not only will they do it, but that others are weak to follow the rules,” Walden said.

“So they marry crime with obstruction and associate that with sport. And that’s how they’ve consistently won. And that’s how the Russian government has used it to bolster its own popularity, so that he has more leeway to indulge in trouble abroad,” he added.

silver track

Olympic great Edwin Moses, who opposed the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, went so far as to call for a ban on Russia from the 2024 Olympics.

“The 1980 boycott was political. It’s just awful,” Moses, president of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, said in a Laureus press release last week.

“It doesn’t have much to do with politics, it has to do with humanity, war, fighting, children and innocent people being killed, rockets and missiles, tanks… .and it’s live on TV, so everyone is aware of it.

“I was in favor of banning the Russians because of what happened in Sochi in 2014 for really corrupting the integrity of the Olympic Games, via doping. I was on the executive committee of the World Agency anti-doping, and I thought the sanctions were too light.

“What they are doing to the whole world right now in Ukraine is exactly the same thing they have done to sport, in my opinion. Russia should be banned in Paris [2024 Olympic Games].”

A few years ago, Moïse says he met Putin.

“Once I sat next to him at [a] table. Two seats to my left, and the translator was in between. And I talked to him all night. I know how he talked about sport, like it was the holy grail, and how important sport was, and how good it was where the best in the whole country, whatever your philosophy, can compete together, and whoever wins, wins…. I realize now that was just propaganda.”

CNN’s Ben Morse and Ben Church contributed reporting.

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