Not everyone agrees with the sporting sanctions slapped on Russian athletes
After Moscow launched its military campaign in Ukraine, Russian athletes have faced the consequences through widespread sanctions imposed by various sporting federations.
Many organizations have taken their cue from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after it recommended that no Russian or Belarusian athletes be invited to international events, leading to participation being blocked for competitors from the two countries.
Even the likes of
the International Blind Sports Federation have joined the pile-on – although at the same time it would be false to assume that the anti-Russian and Belarusian stance has been universal.
Indeed, there are sporting figures and organizations outside of Russia and Belarus who have questioned the type of stance espoused by the IOC, with opinions ranging from expressions of qualified sympathy for banned Russian and Belarusian athletes to open acts of support.
We look at some examples which have made the headlines in recent weeks.
French former world biathlon champion Fourcade has been perhaps the most high-profile supporter of banned Russian athletes.
The elder brother of five-time Olympic champion Martin Fourcade, Simon Fourcade was working as a coach with the French team at the Junior World Championships in the US in February
when he made a gesture of support for the Russian team.
Rearranging the French tricolor into a Russian flag, Fourcade attached it to the outside of the Russian wax cabin at the event in Soldier Hollow after Russian symbols had been stripped from the event.
“I wanted to show that the people in this wax booth are not to blame for anything,” said the 37-year-old.
Fourcade said that it was
“counterproductive” and a “big hypocrisy” to ban Russian athletes – a step taken by the International Biathlon Union (IBU) after it had initially allowed them to compete as neutrals.
Fourcade later revealed he had been bombarded with hate for his Russian gesture, stressing that he did not condone the actions of the Russian government, but was simply supporting fellow athletes.
Norwegian official Oyvind Watterdal felt so strongly that Russian and Belarusian athletes should not be banned en masse that he was willing to leave his position with the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports.
“It is a decision that is in sharp conflict with my values and perception of what sports should be,” deputy member Watterdal said in an email seen by NRK in March.
Watterdal stressed that he did not support Russian actions in Ukraine, but that he was taking the step “
for my own conscience, to stand up for my Russian colleagues and be able to stand and look them in the eye.”
The Norway skiing and biathlon authorities have been accused of leading the calls for anti-Russian sanctions in their respective sports.
Even before athletes were formally banned, the Norwegian Ski Federation
issued a statement in February reading: “The Norwegian Ski Federation’s message to Russia and Russian athletes is crystal clear; We do not want your participation!”
The International Ski Federation (FIS) – like biathlon equivalent the IBU – later moved to suspend Russians and Belarusians outright from all competitions.
World Olympians Association
Independent sporting body the World Olympians Association (WOA) is among the latest organizations to oppose a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes.
Although stating it
“understands and respects” the IOC’s stance, the WOA suggested that a total ban was a violation of Olympic principles and athletes’ right to compete. “[The WOA] strongly believes that decisions on whether to compete or not should be left to each individual athlete and should be based on the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter,” a statement read.
The WOA cited an agreement signed at a forum in 2015 which pledged
“to oppose any political or governmental interference in the autonomy of sports organizations.”
The organization has simultaneously expressed support for Ukrainian Olympians affected by the conflict, setting up an appeal to help them.
Norwegian world chess king Magnus Carlsen is another star to stress that, while he is fundamentally opposed to Russian actions in Ukraine, taking measures to ban Russian players might not be the best move.
Specifically, Carlsen commented on the case of Russian grandmaster Sergey Karjakin,
who was slapped with a six-month sanction by chess governing body FIDE for his full-throated support for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the military campaign in Ukraine. “Of course I don’t agree with Karjakin on anything, but whether it’s right to ban people for opinions that we don’t tolerate? I’m not sure,” Carlsen recently told media out VG in his homeland. “It may pay off at a difficult time, but you also set a precedent for what might come later.”
Carlsen, 31, argued that the step could risk turning Karjakin – whom he defeated in a tense world title battle in 2016 – into a
“martyr” in Russia. “Now he’s allowed to tell that story at home – and that’s a good thing there. We’ll help him willingly with that [by banning him]. We’ll let him have what he wants. I don't know if it's good or not, I’m not sure,” said the five-time world champion. The WTA
Tennis is among the sports to have allowed Russian and Belarusian stars to continue to compete, so long as they do so in a staunchly neutral capacity.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has barred the two countries from team competitions – meaning Russia cannot defend its titles in the prestigious Davis Cup men’s event and the women’s Billie Jean King Cup – but individuals such as world number two Daniil Medvedev can still appear at global tournaments.
Despite that ruling,
there have been suggestions that Wimbledon could nonetheless ban the likes of Medvedev from this summer’s grass court showpiece – or at least require Russian players to sign a form denouncing their country’s leadership.
One man who is
“very, very strongly” against applying individual sanctions is Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chief Steve Simon. “You never know what the future may bring. But I can tell you that we have never banned athletes from participating on our tour as the result of political positions their leadership may take,” Simon told the BBC last month. “I don’t think you can just pick on the athletes… I’m hoping that we continue with the sanctions, we continue doing everything we can to get peace, but again these people are the innocent victims of that, and being isolated as a result of these decisions, I don’t think it’s fair,” added the American. Max Verstappen
F1 king Max Verstappen was at the opposite end of the grid from Nikita Mazepin for all of last season, but the reigning world champion nonetheless said he feels some sympathy for Mazepin after the Russian was dumped by racing team Haas just before the start of the season.
Mazepin – whose billionaire father’s company, Uralkali, was also ditched as a Haas sponsor – was discarded by the US team despite being cleared to compete in a neutral capacity by racing authorities the FIA.
“You always have to feel sympathy with Nikita himself. Everyone, regardless of their background, they work very hard from a very young age to be a Formula 1 driver,” Red Bull star Verstappen told the BBC when asked about Mazepin’s plight. “Of course you can have a lot of backing, but you still need talent to drive these cars, even in Formula 3 and Formula 2, you need to be competitive. [Mazepin] definitely was that. “At the moment it’s very complicated for him, but yeah let’s see. Hopefully in general the world can be at peace again, that’s the most important,” added the 24-year-old Dutchman.
has bemoaned his treatment by Haas, accusing the team of not even having the courtesy to discuss his sacking in person. Serbian sport
Considering the ties between the two countries, it is perhaps unsurprising that Russian athletes have received support from some of their Serbian counterparts.
That includes members of the Crvena Zvezda sporting family, also known as Red Star Belgrade.
Fans of the football team from the Serbian capital
unveiled a banner ahead of a European clash last month which detailed a host of NATO and US military campaigns, accompanied by the message “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” Club director Zvezdan Terzic has dismissed the idea that Red Star could follow the likes of German rivals Schalke 04 by ditching its sponsorship deal with Russian gas giants Gazprom, adding he is “outraged” by the bans applied to Russian teams by the likes of UEFA. “We went through this in 1992. There is anti-Russian hysteria in Europe, politics is unnecessarily interfering in sports,” Terzic told the Serbian media. “We sympathize with the Ukrainian people and the terrible civilian casualties, but the Russian people are close to the Serbs and always will be.
“Russia is a superpower that has always been on the Serbian side.”
Last weekend, the Crvena Zvezda basketball team refused to line up behind a Ukrainian flag with the message ‘Stop War’ written on it before their EuroLeague match with Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania.
Crvena Zvezda players were greeted intense hostility from the Lithuanian crowd, with chants of
“Glory to Ukraine” and “F**k Serbia” being heard, while NATO flags were also seen in the stands.
has since called for disciplinary measures from the EuroLeague, calling it “a political spectacle, not sport, [which] seriously violated the basic principles of the EuroLeague and basketball.” Mircea Lucescu
Romanian managerial icon Mircea Lucescu perhaps did himself no favors with the fanbase of Dynamo Kiev, the club he now manages, when the veteran specialist expressed his opposition to blanket bans on Russian players and teams.
Speaking to the Italian media after the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis, the peripatetic former Zenit St. Petersburg manager said he does not agree with
“withdrawing the right to participate in sport from Russians.” “They must compete. This didn't have to be done, sport just has to help,” the 76-year-old said.
Defending his comments in a subsequent interview with
The Guardian, Lucescu said he had been “attacked” for his stance. “I said Russia’s athletes should not pay the price for what’s happening in Ukraine and many attacked me for that. “But I believe sport can contribute to peace efforts. Maybe not impose it but it can pave the way to something we all want. What will we do after the conflict ends? How will we come at peace between ourselves?” said the former longtime Shakhtar Donetsk boss. The UFC
UFC boss Dana White has not commented specifically on the bans placed on Russian athletes, but he has made efforts for his considerable stable of Russian fighters to continue to compete under the banner of the elite MMA promotion.
After concerns were raised that Russian heavyweight Alexander Volkov would miss his main event clash with Tom Aspinall at UFC London in March due to sanctions, White
said: “We’re trying to get him into England sooner so he can fight. “When things like this start blowing up, we start looking at potential problems and what possibilities are, and we try to get around them. “We try to figure out, ‘If that’s going to happen, let’s get these guys into England earlier.’ “I know that we’ve been trying to get Volkov to leave Russia, and he hasn’t wanted to.”
Volkov did eventually depart Russia and made it to London for the contest, while compatriots Shamil Abdurakhimov and Sergei Pavlovich were also on the card, along with Donbass-born Nikita Krylov.
This weekend sees big-name Russian star Petr Yan contest the UFC bantamweight title against Jamaican-American Aljamain Sterling in Jacksonville, Florida, although it remains to be seen if Yan will be allowed to fly the Russian flag at the event.
A renowned problem-solver, White appears adamant that Russians will continue to have the chance to compete under the bright lights of the UFC.