Sport and patriotism are inseparable. Sport and patriotism are the basis of civil society” – these phrases are repeated in the statements of Russian sports activists and in publications on the role of sport in social life. After Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, many international federations of particular disciplines barred Russian athletes from competition as part of war sanctions. This was seen in Russia as an unfair punishment – the Kremlin considers sports competitions to be one of the basic tools for building the image of invincible power. With the Paris Olympics just two years away, the state machine has already joined the fight to lift sanctions on Russian sport.
The organizers of the Paris 2024 Games have just announced the motto “Games Wide Open”. On this occasion, the Russian Minister of Sports, Oleg Matysyn, expressed his optimism: “Russia will certainly participate in the Olympic competitions. Denying anyone the right to participate in the Games will be a crime and will lead to the destruction of the Olympic movement.” He did not say that Russian athletes support the crimes committed by the Russian military in Ukraine and are therefore not allowed to participate in the games.As well as the fact that a country waging a brutal war contradicts the Olympic idea and has no right to be a member of a peaceful community.According to the Kremlin media service, which supports the lifting sanctions, the exclusion of athletes is a crime, not the reason for their exclusion.This is a typical Russian propaganda ploy.
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At the beginning of July, at a meeting of sports ministers from 35 countries (the EU plus the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Japan and others), a joint declaration was signed to maintain the sanctions against Russian sport. It is therefore not about to change. Pro-Kremlin media have already launched a campaign to discredit the Paris Games. “Komsomolskaya Pravda” ardently writes that many things from the supposed plans cannot be implemented, and predicts that these will be “the most hopeless Games in history”.
The troubles of Russian sport did not start today. Doping scandals after the infamous Sochi 2014 Winter Games, where the results of samples of Russian athletes were falsified on a large scale, still resonate to this day. The Russian national team has come under increased scrutiny from international institutions dealing with the purity of sport, and only a few athletes have been allowed to compete in the Tokyo and Beijing Olympics. This can also be the case in Paris.
Over time, the militant assurances of Russian sports activists that in the conditions of restrictions and sanctions “we will manage”, “we will organize our own competitions with the participation of athletes who want to come to us, for example, from Belarus or the Kazakhstan”, lost their enthusiasm. Initially, slogans were repeatedly thrown around that Russia was in a position to create an alternative sports world in the event of a prolonged boycott. They even considered hosting their own Olympics. Today, however, even Putinists, such as MP Svetlana Zhurova (former speed skater) or MP Nikolai Valuev (ex-boxer), admit that sports stars and many national teams have little chance of participating in these Russian alternative competitions. “We should not console ourselves with the illusion that many countries will come forward,” concluded Żurowa. By the way: where to find money for such risky ventures? Russia will not be able to afford it.
Minor moods also prevail in football clubs. In the sports section, the RBK portal writes: “In February 2022, Russian clubs were excluded from European Cup competitions, the football team was excluded from play-offs giving a chance to participate in the World Cup in Qatar, and foreign players began to leave the Russian championship. Later, UEFA extended the exclusion of Russian clubs from cup matches for another season, and FIFA allowed players to terminate contracts with Russian clubs and extended this permission for another year. These sanctions could send Russian football back thirty years” (for more details, see This article).
Athletes run away
Russian sport does not only live on sanctions. A lot of noise has been made recently by the release of one of the highest ranked Russian tennis players. Daria Kasatkina, twelfth in the world and first in Russia, admitted in an interview with video blogger Viktor Kravchenko (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFNAndV99Rc) that she has a girlfriend. She also expressed solidarity with Russian football player Nadezhda Karpova, who openly talks about her homosexual orientation (Karpova left Russia and plays for a football club in Barcelona). Kravchenko’s material also concerned the attitude of tennis player Andrei Rublev, who plans to give up his Russian citizenship in order to continue playing in international tournaments. On the Match TV sports channel, Kasatkina and Rublev were supported by a commentator who has run tennis programs for years, Sofiya Tartakova. He no longer works on TV. Precisely because of the support for tennis players who go against current trends.
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Hockey player Ivan Fedotov, goalkeeper for the CSKA team and the Russian national team, has also been a victim of the politicization and militarization of Russian sport. Fedotov made no secret of his intention to move to the United States and sign a contract with the NHL (he was supposed to play for the Philadelphia Flyers). Just before his scheduled departure, he was arrested for “evading military service” and taken somewhere in northern Russia, where he is to perform this service. By the way, the International Hockey Federation has withdrawn from Russia the organization of the 2023 World Cup, the matches will be held in Finland and Estonia. It is unclear whether Russian Sborna will be allowed to play in the tournament.
While some wonder how to withdraw from Russian sport to save their careers under sanctions, others wholeheartedly support the war, officially dubbed a “special military operation in Ukraine”. One of them is a swimmer, Olympic champion Yevgeny Rylov (I wrote about him on the blog “17 Moments of Russia” in the text “Sports Up Front”). Rylov lost his foreign sponsors but won the sympathy of Putin, who called the swimmer’s punishments ‘absurd’ for taking part in a pro-presidential, pro-war rally at Luzhniki Stadium in March this year . Excluded from international competitions, the athlete rubs shoulders with young people, to whom he teaches a “patriotic” attitude. He announces that he will end his career after the Paris Olympics. But whether he will go there remains an open question.
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