Why Sports Continue to be Crucial to International Pressure on Russia

by Spencer Penland 13

March 12th, 2022 International, News

Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, substantial portions of the international community have worked together to apply pressure on the Russian government. Those actions have ranged across the entire spectrum, from economic sanctions, to aiding the Ukrainian people and government with money and arms, and even to the world of sports.

Many major international sports governing bodies have instituted bans on Russian athletes competing until further notice. Perhaps most notably, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) barred Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing at the 2022 Paralympic Games in Beijing. The international governing body for soccer, FIFA, which is the largest sporting organization in the world, has banned any Russian clubs or national teams from competition. That ban bears unique significance, as soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and FIFA is the second-largest international governing body in the world, behind only the United Nations.

Michael Payne, the former head of marketing at the IOC, told CNN recently that the most significant impact of these sanctions by sport governing bodies could be to “challenge the Kremlin’s narrative on the conflict.” Payne goes on to say that “There can be no misunderstanding: no amount of control of the Russian media is able to explain what’s going on in the sports world, that they’ve suddenly been banished.”

The aquatics community, led by FINA, has taken action as well, albeit less punitive action than many other bodies. FINA responded shortly after the invasion began by pulling the 2022 World Junior Swimming Championships, which were set to take place in late August, from Kazan, Russia. FINA hasn’t gone much further than that as of yet, and they’re still resistant to full stop banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from competition. European Aquatics (LEN), on the other hand, has banned Russia and Belarus from competition until further notice.

We’ve seen Ukrainian athletes displaced, many heading to other European countries for sanctuary. Italy is hosting both Ukrainian artistic swimmers and, as recently announced, 12 Ukrianian swimmers this month. The group of swimmers, including World Champion Daryna Zevina, will be training in Italy at Lignano Sabbiadoro from March 12-31.

You may be asking yourself: It’s just sports, why does banning Russian involvement matter? Aren’t there plenty of things in the world right more important than sports?

Well, yes. Afterall, people are dying right now in Ukraine. With every day that passes, more soldiers and civilians will be killed, families will be broken up and uprooted from their homes, and world inches closer to an escalated global conflict that absolutely nobody wants. That’s precisely why it’s so crucial that the international community at large provides pressure on Russian president Vladimir Putin via every available avenue, including sports.

Sports play a huge role in our lives. Think about how you feel when your favorite team or athlete wins it all. The pride. The elation. For fans, sports are an outlet, it’s entertainment, whether they’re watching on a TV or in person. For the athletes, it’s what they’ve trained their whole lives for, it’s their craft.

Sporting on the international stage brings in the element of national pride. It’s exactly why events like the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics are so huge. Ask yourself, have you ever found yourself watching a sport you don’t typically follow in the Olympics, cheering for athletes you’re not familiar with, just because they represent your country? Probably.

That’s the reason action by sport governing bodies has a chance to be uniquely effective in applying pressure to Putin’s regime. It’s well known that Putin believes Russian athletes performing well on the world stage is an important display of Russia’s strength. Athletes will of course be upset that their opportunities to compete in their sport have disappeared. But more importantly, average Russians who are used to watching their athletes compete, will take notice that they’re no longer competing. They’ll ask why this is happening and look for somewhere to turn their anger.

If there’s any hope of Russian withdrawing from Ukraine, it lies in the state of things in Russia. If the Russian people turn against the war in overwhelming fashion, lives, Ukrainian and Russian, could be saved.

As Michael Payne told CNN, “Will Putin care about having to give his Olympic gold order back or what the rest of the international world thinks of him? Probably not. Will he care about what all the local Russians are saying, ‘Hang on, what is going on?’ Absolutely.”

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Nick
10 months ago

Are you saying the NCAA should follow suit and to ban Russian athletes competing in the American collegiate system, like Minakov?

ooo
Reply to  Nick
10 months ago

All russians should be sent back to Russia, except political refugees of course.

Eddie
10 months ago

Can someone remind me if any American athletes were banned from international competition after the US invaded Iraq? Or after its horrific campaign in Vietnam? Or after any number of US war crimes?

Taa
Reply to  Eddie
10 months ago

Maybe you should tell us why there was no ban? Do your research and explain it for us.

Russian Swimmer
Reply to  Taa
10 months ago

Cause hypocrisy and double standards? Think yourself

Taa
Reply to  Russian Swimmer
10 months ago

Hope you enjoy swimming with your countrymen in the Siberia open championship later this year. Maybe Putin will put the medal around your neck

Matt
Reply to  Russian Swimmer
10 months ago

Your response seems to imply Russia has never military invaded or interfered in another Country before Ukraine. Look at Syria and Georgia in recent years. Russian athletes just like American athletes (as a result of these wars started by the US) escaped bans here in the past, so hardly an example of double standards? In fact it seems pretty consistent to me

Stewart 100 back gold in Fukuoka
10 months ago

For the question asked in the article:
“Ask yourself, have you ever found yourself watching a sport you don’t typically follow in the Olympics, cheering for athletes you’re not familiar with, just because they represent your country? ”

My answer is never. When I’m watching a sport that I didn’t usually pay attention to, I never root for anyone in particular, but just enjoy the competition process. I won’t cheer for someone just because he or she is my countryman. I’m actually pretty annoyed by many people’s attempts to linking patriotism to sport. Perhaps it’s only me but it shouldn’t be so.

Big Kicker
Reply to  Stewart 100 back gold in Fukuoka
10 months ago

Pretty certain that this is the motive behind the large majority of viewers at the olympics. Even in sports they normally wouldn’t watch, people get to rally behind the representatives of their country and cheer for them regardless of their knowledge of the subject.

I’ve always found it to be a refreshing dose of unity that is otherwise rare nowadays, is that supposed to be a bad thing?

Steve Nolan
10 months ago

This one gets tricky for me. Mostly because I think all Russian athletes should’ve been barred from competition years ago, due to the whole “overwhelming evidence of state-sponsored doping” thing. I also completely agree with pulling competitions out of Russia, no real reason to go to there.

But to make the call to ban all their athletes now…I dunno. (It’s not that dissimilar to athletes refusing to compete against Israeli athletes, which I’m sure people will not go nuts about me saying.)

I’m still sorta wrestling with it – maybe the entire delegation being booted is better than just being randomly xenophobic against individual athletes from Russia? There’re definitely folks out there that think Russian citizens shouldn’t be… Read more »

Stewart 100 back gold in Fukuoka
10 months ago

I never get the logic that sanctioning ordinary Russian civilians will lead to them putting pressure on Poutin. As far as what I have observed, all these things are actually pushing them to the opposite side. When the war first broke out, thousands of Russian people were on street protesting the war or being vocal about the crime of their president on social media. But now I see many of them begin to believe they are really targeted and discriminated by the rest of the world after all those sanctions. How can you expect them to stand on the right side and use their voices to put pressure on Poutin if they are not even allowed to use all the… Read more »

Taa
Reply to  Stewart 100 back gold in Fukuoka
10 months ago

You think Rublev action is being broadcast in Russia? I’m betting hell no. Send him home so all his countrymen can ask him why he is there instead competing overseas

Yozhik
Reply to  Stewart 100 back gold in Fukuoka
10 months ago

How little you know about todays Russia. Immediately after some protests took place there was a law adopted by Russian Duma about 15 years imprisonment for those who calls this local military operation with strictly limited targets a war. Any soldiers were stripped of their cellphones. Any information from the battlefields about Russian casualties- 15 years hard labor at best. I lost almost all phone and internet contacts with people that I used to communicate in Russia. They bagged me not to call them for a while. All videos about atrocities in Ukraine are blocked or called a fake There is a military war in Ukraine and information war in Russia. And propaganda everywhere that difficulties that the people may… Read more »