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How is Russia coping with sporting sanctions?

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24 Mar, 2022 13:28 HomeSport News How is Russia coping with sporting sanctions? Just like the nation’s economy, Russian sport has been hit with a wave of sanctions in the wake of the military operation in Ukraine

Sport, it seems, is not immune to politics – just ask the Russian athletes who have been affected by the sweeping bans placed on their country since Moscow began its military operation in Ukraine.

But how far-reaching are the sanctions, and how has Russia responded to them?

Here, we look at some of the key questions surrounding Russian sport as it faces isolation from numerous international showpieces.

Why are Russian athletes being sanctioned?

After Russia announced its military offensive in Ukraine, partly entering via Belarus, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued a recommendation that Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials be barred from all international events.

Failing that, the IOC said Russian and Belarusian sportspeople should only compete under neutral status, also recommending that the two countries not host any international sporting events.

READ MORE: Olympic officials recommend total ban on Russia and Belarus

Justifying its decision, the IOC accused Russia and Belarus of “breaching the Olympic Truce” and said the events in Ukraine put the organization in a “dilemma which cannot be solved.”

Which sports have banned Russia?

Following the IOC recommendation, federations across a host of sports have banned Russian and Belarusian teams and athletes.

That includes major organizations such as football’s FIFA and UEFA – meaning that the Russian men’s team is set to miss the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

The Russian and Belarusian Paralympic teams were banned from the Beijing 2022 Winter Games just one day before they were due to begin.

Russian and Belarusian figure skating stars have been barred from events including the World Championship in France this month, while athletes from the two nations have been prevented from competing by World Athletics, even as neutrals.

Other sports where Russia traditionally shines such as gymnastics have also banned Russian athletes completely, although sanctions span a host of less popular sports, ranging from canoeing to karate.

READ MORE: UK government wants Russian athletes banned unless they denounce Putin

Russia has also been stripped of sporting showpieces. The highest-profile was the UEFA Champions League final due to be played in St. Petersburg in May, which has been relocated to Paris. UEFA also ended its sponsorship deal with Russian energy giant Gazprom.

Russia has lost the 2022 Men’s World Volleyball Championship and the 2023 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, while a decision on the senior 2023 World Ice Hockey Championships – scheduled for St. Petersburg next May – is due to be made in the coming weeks.

The Formula One Russian Grand Prix scheduled for Sochi in September has been scrapped, as has the race in St. Petersburg next year.

Elsewhere, the FINA Swimming World Championships set for Kazan in December were canceled this week.  

Beyond athletes and officials, Russian dignitaries have been stripped of international accolades, including the Olympic orders given to President Vladimir Putin and Russian officials Dmitry Chernyshenko and Dmitry Kozak.

Putin has also lost honorary judo and taekwondo titles, and an award issued by swimming federation FINA.

Which sports have allowed Russian athletes to compete?

Some sports have allowed Russian and Belarusian athletes to continue to compete in international competitions as neutrals, with tennis a prominent example.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has barred Russia and Belarus from team events, but has allowed stars such as Daniil Medvedev to play as individuals, albeit without national symbols. Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chief Steve Simon recently said he was firmly against any blanket bans. 

Swimming authorities FINA had vowed they would allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete under neutral status, saying they “remained opposed to a blanket ban,” only to reverse that decision this week.

Likewise, the International Skiing Federation (FIS) had said it would allow Russian and Belarusian athletes as neutrals but relented under the threat of boycotts.  

READ MORE: Swimming chiefs take action against Russia

The International Biathlon Union (IBU) said it would “invite individual athletes from these nations to compete as neutral athletes,” but strictly without national symbols on display. Russia later said it would not attend events anyway, citing “the risk of humiliation and security fears.”

Even though motor racing federation the FIA has cleared Russian and Belarusian racers to appear as neutrals, countries such as the UK have said they will refuse to grant licenses to drivers from the countries. Russian F1 racer Nikita Mazepin lost his seat at American team Haas, which also ended its sponsorship deal with Russian company Uralkali.

Boxing officials in the UK have also said they will refuse to allow fighters with licenses in Russia or Belarus to compete on British shores.

Notably, Russian stars are still free to play in foreign leagues such as the NHL, where Alexander Ovechkin continues to star for the Washington Capitals, or the likes of the Serie A and Ligue 1 football leagues in Italy and France respectively.

Fans in Russia will not be able to see many of their nation’s foreign-based stars, however, after the likes of the French Ligue 1 ended contract agreements with Russian broadcasters.     

How has Russian sport reacted to the sanctions?

The response in Russia to the bans has been one of frustration, with accusations of sport being undermined by politics.

Strong statements have been issued by the likes of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), whose Union of Athletes said the measures were akin to “sports genocide.” Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the IOC of “trampling on” its own ideals. 

Countering those claims, the IOC has said it is a “weak argument” to suggest that politics is interfering with sporting principles.

READ MORE: IOC chief dismisses ‘politicization’ of sport in fresh attack on Russia

In some cases, Russia has launched legal appeals. The Russian Football Union (RFU) turned to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland to overturn the suspensions by FIFA and UEFA, although those efforts have been unsuccessful.

There has been defiance from some Russian athletes, with double Olympic champion swimmer Evgeny Rylov boycotting the World Championships in a show of solidarity with his compatriots, before it was confirmed that Russian participants would be banned.

Elsewhere, Olympic high jump gold medalist Mariya Lasitskene has refused to meet Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin, with her husband saying the three-time world champion feels disillusioned at yet more bans after years of WADA sanctions against Russia.

Some individual Russian athletes have been targeted due to apparent shows of support for Putin or the military operation in Ukraine. Swimmer Rylov is being investigated by FINA for appearing at a Moscow concert marking the reunification of Russia and Crimea. Russian chess star Sergey Karjakin has been banned for six months by FIDE for issuing his public support for President Putin.

READ MORE: Pro-Putin grandmaster vows to create rebel federation

Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak is also facing a ban for appearing on the podium at a World Cup event with a ‘Z’ attached to his leotard, a symbol which has been displayed on Russian military hardware in Ukraine and is used to show support for the operation.

Elsewhere, the likes of Russian tennis stars Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova have issued calls for peace as they continue to compete under neutral status.

How else is Russia coping with missing sports events?

Russia adapted to its Paralympic ban by hosting its own event – ‘We are Together. Sport’ – in the Siberian winter sports resort of Khanty-Mansiysk. The event was attended by competitors from Belarus, Armenia, and Tajikistan.

The Russian Sports Ministry has indicated that similar competitions will be held in future, with invitations extended to foreign athletes, in particular from “friendly” countries within the CIS, BRICS and beyond.

Belarusian competitors were allowed to compete at the recent Russian Biathlon Federation Cup – a unification which could be followed in other sports.

READ MORE: Putin praises Russian Paralympians after Siberian showpiece ends

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko has estimated that Russia will save more than 8 billion rubles ($75 million) by not hosting international events it has been stripped of, funds which he says will be redirected to develop domestic sport.

Some Russian clubs have seen foreign players and coaches leave, including in the Russian football Premier League. That has posed difficulties in the short term as clubs such as Krasnodar – who lost their entire contingent of foreign players – fill the void, although Russian Sports Minister Matytsin has said the situation will allow local domestic talent to be given more opportunities.

In financial terms, Matytsin said this week that “we will continue to support [Russian] athletes. The level of wages will not be reduced in any way.”

Russia surprised many on Wednesday by formally lodging a declaration of interest to host the UEFA European Championship in either 2028 or 2032, indicating that officials are hopeful of a change in direction and that any isolation will not be too protracted. 

What about the effect on other countries?

Russian Sports Minister Matytsin has vowed that “we are not going to isolate ourselves… we cannot imagine world sport without Russia.”

Indeed, international competitions across numerous sports will undoubtedly be diminished by the absence of Russian stars – not least figure skating, where the World Championships are being held in France this week. Russian women’s stars swept the podium at last year’s event in Stockholm, but this year will be entirely absent.

READ MORE: Figure skating showpiece ‘boring’ without Russians – Olympic queen

International sporting organizations will also need to readjust financially in the event of canceled sponsorship with Russian companies, such as UEFA’s long-running deal with Gazprom.

In terms of collateral damage, English football giants Chelsea stand out among those affected, after Russian owner Roman Abramovich moved to sell the club amid sanctions from the UK government.

Others have suggested that Russian talent making its way abroad – such as young ice hockey stars being drafted to the NHL – could dry up in the current circumstances.      

How long will the bans last?

In issuing its recommendation for bans on Russian and Belarusian athletes, the IOC said it would “closely monitor the situation” and “may adapt its recommendations and measures according to future developments.”

Most federations have left their sanctions open-ended, announcing they will be in place “until further notice.”

That would seem the fate of Russian athletes’ international participation is largely tied up with a resolution to the military conflict in Ukraine, although it is arguable that even a Moscow-Kiev peace treaty would not lead to an immediate lifting of sporting sanctions.

Just as they did with issuing bans, many federations will likely look to the IOC for guidance.


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