Via, an article on the impact of restricting an entire population from a sporting event because of the invasion of Ukraine:

Everywhere you look in sports these days, Russians are disappearing. The international governing bodies for basketball, soccer and hockey—FIBA, FIFA and the IIH—banned Russian teams from competition in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Wimbledon has boxed out Russian players. Even the International Cat Federation has forbidden any feline bred in Russia from entering international competition, citing Russia’s “unprecedented act of aggression.”

In our polarized modern discourse, complex topics tend to get chopped into two sides, and so the Russia issue in sports has been simplified: To ban or not to ban, that is the question.

But the question is not simple. It is not even one question. There are different kinds of sporting events and different stated reasons for the bans. There are varying political ramifications, marketing calculations and moral concerns.

Some of these decisions are easy and straightforward. Pulling a Formula One race out of Russia is an economic sanction in line with how the West has responded to the invasion of Ukraine. It is also a safety measure. Considering Russia’s ongoing detainment of U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, no sports organization should risk sending athletes to Russia right now.

Other decisions are not so clear-cut. The Russia issue is the ultimate test of sports’ place in politics—and of politics’ place in sports. Can an athlete be from Russia but not for Russia? How much should government actions affect the playing field?

Ignoring the invasion of Ukraine entirely would be both insensitive and foolhardy. But the sports world is also in danger of punishing innocent athletes, boosting Russian support of Putin—and, inadvertently, adopting Putin’s twisted view of what sports should be.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. That timing is essential to understanding why banning Russian athletes became so widespread: It happened in the small window between the Winter Olympics and the Paralympics, which made the International Olympic Committee the leadoff hitter.

The IOC is the rare major sports organization that had already banned Russians, for a state-sponsored doping scandal uncovered after the 2014 Winter Games. The IOC later retreated, though, allowing Russians to compete, just not under their own flag. And the ’22 Winter Olympics in Beijing showed how punchless that half-measure really was: Russian figure skating star Kamila Valieva was allowed to compete despite testing positive for trimetazidine, a drug that was widely believed to have been administered to her without her knowledge.

So, before the invasion of Ukraine, Olympic and Paralympic athletes already had a justifiable anger toward Russians competing at all. That atmosphere made it easier for the IOC to defend keeping Russians out of the approaching Paralympics, the first domino that started a succession of bans.

But hold on. The IOC’s primary official reason for banning Russians—and Belarusians, whose government supports the invasion—was that other countries were threatening to boycott. The IOC also said in a statement that allowing Russians to compete would threaten “the integrity of these Games and the safety of all participants.” Basically: So many athletes from other countries were furious about the invasion that the IOC feared violent altercations.

However, not one of those reasons applies to Wimbledon—or, really, to most other sporting events. There is no indication that any tennis players would skip the tournament in London if Russians were to compete. (Top players, in fact, have spoken in favor of Russians competing.) But now, as a result of the ban, the men’s and women’s tennis tours have decided not to award rankings points for Wimbledon.

The All England Club, which runs Wimbledon, announced that the goal of its ban was to “limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible.” This is, essentially, another version of the sanctions that the Western world has levied upon Russians: taking yachts from oligarchs and Wimbledon slots from tennis stars.

As Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim has written: Boris Johnson, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, favored a ban, and the All England Club risked being at odds with its own government. That could have created a situation where Russian star Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2–ranked male in the world, was in line for a high seed but was denied entry to the U.K.

FIFA hit the same notes as the All England Club, announcing its ban “in full solidarity with all the people affected in Ukraine.” That aligns with most of the world’s reaction to the invasion. But the first organization to ban Russian athletes, the IOC, explicitly said in announcing its action that it is “united in its sense of fairness not to punish athletes for the decisions of their government if they are not actively participating in [those decisions].” Now organizations are saying the opposite: Russia should be ostracized in every possible way. While that’s a good political talking point, with widespread support, cutting off Russians in every possible way could bring unintended consequences.


Leave A Reply