UK government wants Russian athletes banned unless they denounce Putin
Russian tennis players who support Vladimir Putin or want to fly their national flag will be banned from playing at major sporting events in the UK under plans being discussed by the country's government, its sports minister has warned while calling Russia a "pariah on the world stage".
Nigel Huddleston, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top sports chief, said Russian President Putin was "in control" of how long his country would be sanctioned by leading sporting organizations and voiced confidence that English football would "manage" without investment from Russians such as Roman Abramovich.
When he was asked about Daniil Medvedev, the US Open tennis winner who is vying with Novak Djokovic for the men's world number one spot, Huddleston said talks with the All England Lawn Tennis Club – the organizers of London Grand Slam tournament Wimbledon – were underway over possible new entry requirements specific to Russians.
“We are talking to various sports about this and what the response should be there,” the businessman and Conservative politician told a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee.
"We want to make sure the sanctions hit those who we intend to hit.""We would look at changing the license to enable that sale."Minister for Sport Nigel Huddleston on the current discussions with Chelsea to make sure the sanctions only affect owner Roman Abramovich pic.twitter.com/BbMvYNFRl4— Football Daily (@footballdaily) March 15, 2022
UK sports minister Nigel Huddleston: "We fully support the Premier League's decision to stop broadcasting matches in Russia in response to Putin's barbaric, senseless invasion of Ukraine. Russia cannot be allowed to legitimise its illegal war through sport"— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) March 8, 2022
“Absolutely, nobody flying the flag for Russia should be allowed or enabled. But I think it needs to go beyond that – I think we need to have some assurance that they are not supporters of Vladimir Putin and we are considering what requirements we may need to get assurances along those lines.
“In short, would I be comfortable with a Russian athlete flying the flag of Russia? No.
“We are looking at this issue of what we do with individuals and we are thinking about the implications of it, because I don’t think people would accept individuals very clearly flying the Russian flag – in particular, if there is any support for Putin and his regime."
Sports minister Nigel Huddleston spent his morning not answering questions about Roman Abramovich pic.twitter.com/zg17IVTbJz— PoliticsJOE (@PoliticsJOE_UK) March 15, 2022
MP Nigel Huddleston asked if the govt would allow Chelsea to go out of business. "The absolute opposite of what you suggest. The actions we've taken and licence given is precisely to stop this happening." #CFC— Sam Cunningham (@samcunningham) March 15, 2022
Medvedev has no known links to Putin and has voiced his desire for peace following the start of the attack on Ukraine.
Speaking at a tournament in California where he appeared as the world number one for the first time in his career, the 26-year-old suggested he was grateful to be playing and would follow any rules put in place by organizers.
Australian Open finalist Medvedev has been one of the Russian tennis players to remove their national flag from their social media accounts during the conflict.
Abramovich has been barred from his proposed sale of Chelsea under sanctions imposed on the billionaire by the UK Government because of his alleged close links to Putin.
Chelsea have been placed under a special licence by the government, plunging the club into crisis by suspending its ticket and merchandise sales, transfers and contract negotiations with players, among a range of measures.
Huddleston said that what he perceived as the riches of sport would mean the UK could "manage perfectly well" without Russian investment.
English football was transformed by the arrival of Abramovich in 2003, pushing up the spending of top Premier League clubs and preceding the investment of other wealthy foreign owners such as Newcastle's new Saudi-backed hierarchy.
"I really cannot see circumstances for quite a long period of time where we are going to welcome that money [from Russian investors] back – I genuinely can't," predicted Huddleston.
"I don't think it would be morally acceptable. It may, in many cases, not be legally possible because we will still have considerable sanctions imposed on many entities.
"I don't think sport fans around the world and, in particular, in this country would find that acceptable either. They've spoken very loudly and clearly."
Russian football clubs and national teams have been suspended from competitions organized by world governing body FIFA and European leaders UEFA.
A wide range of other sporting organizations have also imposed sanctions on Russian athletes.
"As long as Russia continues to be a pariah on the world stage, those sanctions will last," said Huddleston.
"Nobody knows but the person who is in control of that is Vladimir Putin. They will last for some time and, including Russia not being able to bid for major sporting events, it is going to be quite a while before we accept Russia back onto the world sporting stage."
Johnson has condemned Putin and oversaw fresh sanctions for more than 370 Russians in an announcement on Tuesday.