Four-time Olympic gold medalist Alexander Popov, widely regarded as one of the greatest male freestyle swimmers in history, believes that the global sanctions on Russian athletes won’t be in place for much longer.
Popov, a Russian native who was a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from 2000 until 2016 (currently an honorary member), told Russia’s official state news agency TASS that having Russian and Belarusian athletes absent from competitions is hurting the organizers.
“Unfortunately, the postulate that sport is out of politics has lost its force,” said Popov, via translation. “We are waiting for common sense to prevail. I am more than sure that this is short-lived. Have you watched the World Hockey Championship?”
Popov said the absence of the Russian team devalued the 2022 World Ice Hockey Championships, an event where players out of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) are generally given a global platform with several National Hockey League (NHL) players unable to attend due to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Popov, 50, also noted that there are sporting events scheduled to take place in Russia between the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) – a post-Soviet group – to keep the athletes in competition, including the Friendship Games in Kazan during the summer.
On February 28, the IOC recommended that international sports federations prevent Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating due to the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
FINA has barred all Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in its event for the rest of the year, and the European Swimming League (LEN) has put forth the same sanction indefinitely.
Popov swept the men’s 50 and 100 freestyles at back-to-back Olympic Games in 1992 and 1996, and won nine total Olympic medals over the course of his career. He also won six World Championship titles, including three in the 100 free and two in the 50 free.
Bach Says Organisations Need To Make Their Own Decisions
While the majority of sports aren’t permitting Russian athletes to participate, in certain cases they are able to compete as neutrals.
IOC President Thomas Bach recently told the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) that they need to make their own decision regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine and can’t be influenced by governments at risk of “becoming a political tool.”
“We need the respect of the Governments for our role,” Bach said when addressing the ASOIF General Assembly in Lausanne.
He then put Wimbledon, the tennis major hosted at the All England Tennis Club, on blast for disallowing Russian and Belarusians due to government influences after players were allowed to compete as neutrals at over events, including the French Open.
“Look at our friends from tennis, in Paris, Russian players can play as neutral athletes, in London, at Wimbledon, the Government is saying no way, and if we allow this, if we give into this, then we are lost,” he said.
“How can you guarantee then, in your sport a fair international competition, if the Governments are deciding according to their own political interests, who can take part in a competition and who cannot take part?
“Then, If you open this gate, today, it is Russia and Belarus, tomorrow it is your country, there is no country in the world which is loved by every other government.”
ROC Blocked From Attending European Olympic Committee Assembly
The European Olympic Committee (EOC) did not allow the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) to participate in its General Assembly, according to a TASS report on Thursday.
ROC President Stanislav Pozdnyakov said the committee will legally challenge the EOC’s decision.
“We are not admitted to the EOC General Assembly,” Pozdnyakov said. “We will be forced to respond to this with legal steps. We will dispute this.
“The decision of the EOC was unexpected. From our point of view, it is illegal, unfriendly and may lead to the fact that we will challenge any decision of the General Assembly. That is, we question the legitimacy of its holding in connection with the latest steps side of the EOC. And these steps are completely contrary to the rhetoric of the International Olympic Committee.”
Pozdnyakov also said Thursday that the organization will take retaliatory steps against any ‘anti-Russia’ sentiments that are being pushed in sport, but will do so in a calm manner.
“We are faced with obvious speculations and attempts to escalate anti-Russian hysteria,” Pozdnyakov said at the ROC Executive Committee meeting in Moscow,” according to TASS. “We are not responding to provocations, but we are certainly categorically against anyone exploiting our silence for counterproductive purposes.
“We will certainly respond. But we will respond in a combined manner of friendship and respect.”