Legendary Swimmer Alexander Popov Believes Russian Sanctions Will Soon Be Lifted

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.”

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Carlos purniel
2 months ago

Carlos purniel

2 months ago

“Unfortunately, the postulate that sport is out of politics has lost its force,”

Someone should let him know that this didn’t come about because of politics. It’s because of a war that Russia started and thousands of innocent people they have killed.

Reply to  John
2 months ago

As much as I agree with you, why wasn’t usa banned when they killed millions in the Middle East?

Coach Macgyver
Reply to  Alex
2 months ago


Reply to  Alex
2 months ago

Iraq invaded Kuwait and Kuwait asked the USA to come to its aide. The USA had UN General Assembly approval and Worldwide coalition support. It is Russia who killed thousands of Syrians.

Kanye's Best
Reply to  Alex
2 months ago

Rational conversations can’t happen under this kind of a cloud of hyperbole. “Millions” is a lie and you know it.

Reply to  John
2 months ago

It is not politics. It is because Russia is a terrorist country.

Reply to  anonymous
2 months ago

Or as John McCain used to say, it’s a gas station masquerading as a country.

2 months ago

What a gross overestimation of Russia’s relevance in the wider world; nobody will miss Vlad’s pals.
(Tomorrow it might be your country? Which other countries have been at war to annex other countries’ territory? Sorry, Russia, but that’s so 20th Century. Only you (and perhaps China) still have such notions.)

Armstrong 100 back gold in Fukuoka
Reply to  Tony
2 months ago

Number of wars China started in 21st century: 0.
Number of wars USA started in 21st century: oops I’ve lost counts.

Reply to  Armstrong 100 back gold in Fukuoka
2 months ago

Instead China kills millions of its own people.

Reply to  Armstrong 100 back gold in Fukuoka
2 months ago

If you compare 2 countries, make sure the numbers represent the same century, don’t take numbers for one country from one century and compare them with another country from a different century.

2 months ago

I don’t miss them

2 months ago

Don’t hold your breath, Popov!

2 months ago

I am not a fan of Russia by any means; however, I am going to quote the Olympic Charter which is apart of the set of laws that govern the Olympics and that International Federations must follow. (Chapter 3 of Olympic Charter)

Olympic Charter – Fundamental Principles of Olympism:
Amendment 6, “The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Olympic Charter shall be secured without discrimination of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

It would seem to me that based on the law, Russian and Belarusian athletes are being illegally discriminated against based on either their political opinions… Read more »

Reply to  #AthleteLivesMatter
2 months ago

The Charter says that ‘the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms IN THIS CHARTER shall be secured’. What specific section of the charter do you say athletes are having their rights and freedoms taken away? and on what grounds? Your argument sounds all well and good when you limit it to vague platitudes, but it doesn’t hold up when you deal with the specifics of reality.

Your final paragraph that employs the classic ‘slippery slope’ argument and has no basis whatsoever. You, I and everyone reading this knows the example you gave is absurd. Russia is currently preparing to execute British prisoners of war in contravention of international law and the Geneva Convention. To suggest that someone eating meat could… Read more »

Reply to  jamesjabc
2 months ago

The specific section of the charter that I am referring to is Fundamental Principles of Olympism. Amendment 6 states that there cannot be discrimination for political opinion and/or national origin. Here is the link to another SwimSwam article discussing how a Russian athlete is banned from competition simply for being at a political rally.


Please keep in mind, that we do not know if he attended this rally under duress. But whether he attended under the threat of duress or of his own free choice, it should not matter. All athletes have an inherent right to be free thinkers and have their own political opinions.

I am willing to bet that you have… Read more »

Reply to  #AthleteLivesMatter
2 months ago

They do you also think it was a historical injustice to ban South African athletes during the apartheid years as well, under the same principles you just quoted?

Reply to  JVW
2 months ago

I was not familiar with the South African athletes being banned from the Olympics. A quick google search brought me slightly up to speed. I only read through a little bit so I am not totally versed on the topic. However, it seems to me that their athletes were banned from the Olympics for something their government was doing.

I do not know what the Olympic Charter stated at this time. (I assume it has probably changed a lot over time)

I think that all of us must recognize that the athletes are not the ones making political decisions. An athlete does not get to decide if a country has apartheid or not. An athlete does not decide if… Read more »

2 months ago

I was really, really, really hoping that he wouldn’t say anything until at least this hideous war is over. No such luck…

Failed Presidency
2 months ago

The spookiest thing about this article was my discovery that Popov is now 50 YEARS OLD.

I, of course, have aged since the 1990s, but I’ve always kept him in a memory box where he is always 24!

For that matter, tennis great Bjorn Born turned 66 three days ago.

Reply to  Failed Presidency
1 month ago

I had a massive crush on Popov when I was a teen in the 1990s!

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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