ISSN 2330-717X

World Reaction To Putin’s War On Ukraine Forces IOC To Exclude Russian Athletes From Competitions – OpEd

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The International Olympic Committee, notorious for its deference to Moscow in the past, has now because of international outrage at Putin’s massive invasion of Ukraine been forced to adopt a far tougher line, one that threatens to isolate Russian sport for years to come.

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IOC President Thomas Bach, who has been ridiculed for his closeness to the Kremlin, has delivered a speech to the IOC meeting in Lausanne which makes it clear the Committee no longer feel able to condemn the actions of Moscow while shielding Russian athletes from being excluded (stillmed.olympics.com/media/Documents/International-Olympic-Committee/Sessions/139th-Session/IOC-Session-May-2022-speech.pdf).

Not surprisingly, Bach sought to present this shift as something he regrets and has been forced to do rather than reflecting his personal or organizational views. Noting that the IOC had condemned the Kremlin’s actions, he said that “we also had to take protective measures to ensure the integrity of international competitions.”

For that reason, the IOC head said, “we had to recommend not to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials to take part in international competitions or to at least prohibit any identification of their nationality,” something he argued was a “protective” measure rather than “a sanction.”

According to Bach, “the safety of the Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials could not be guaranteed because of the deep anti-Russian and anti-Belarusian feelings in so many countries following the invasion” of Ukraine. But the consequences of this decision, obviously taken reluctantly, are the isolation of the athletes of these countries.

In reporting this development, Kazakh journalist Timur Erdzhanov observes that while the IOC clearly wanted to behave as it has in the past, issuing lofty statements about governments but not touching the athletes, world public opinion has forced it to change its behavior if not its beliefs (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=628A37C4A8544).

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Many IOC member countries have already adopted personal sanctions against Russian athletes who have spoken out in favor of Putin’s aggression and more are likely to do so, the commentator says. And with the IOC action, Russian sports are going to be increasingly isolated, with the opportunities for competition at the highest levels on which their development depends.

Consequently, Erdzhanov says, Russian sport is another part of the collateral damage Putin and his war have inflicted, damage that is going to cost today’s Russian athletes and their successors dearly.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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