— Published 15 March 2022

‘The sports movement will have to stand firm against Russia’

Two weeks have passed since the IOC announced its “recommendation” to international federations to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions. Two weeks in which the Olympic movement has shown a rare unity.

The bodies followed the IOC’s advice. Most closed the door completely to representatives of the two countries. But several of them, including FINA (swimming) and the IJF (judo), chose a middle way: they banned Russia and Belarus, but allowed their athletes to compete under neutral banners.

On the governance side, however, the landscape remains less clear. It is true that the sanctions imposed by the European Union, including the seizure of his assets, forced the Russian Alisher Usmanov to step down as president of the International Fencing Federation (FIE). But the two other Russians at the head of an international sports body, Umar Kremlev in boxing (IBA) and Vladimir Lisin in shooting (ISSF), are still in place.

The same situation applies to the IOC. Its two Russian members, Shamil Tarpishchev and Yelena Isinbayeva, retain their status. They are not banned, unlike the athletes. Nor are they temporarily excluded.

What happens next? It looks confusing. On the sporting field, i.e. the competitions, the Ukrainians should be able to hold their place, despite the invasion of their country and the difficulties of training and travelling. The solidarity effort initiated by several international federations (boxing, canoeing) should enable the athletes to hold their ground. A Ukrainian delegation of six athletes, all women, is expected to attend the World Indoor Athletics Championships in Belgrade (18-20 March) at the end of the week.

The Russians, on the other hand, can put away their uniforms. Participation in competitions is now virtually impossible for them, even in sports where they are allowed under the guise of neutrality. The recent announcement by the Russian Judo Federation that it will not take part in any international events is proof of this. The Russian judo federation explained its decision by the insecurity that could envelop its judokas in competitions, and by the impossibility of travelling to a large number of countries in the world.

Elsewhere, the Olympic movement can look forward to an uncertain period. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is due to give its verdict in the coming days after the Russian Football Federation was excluded by FIFA from the play-offs for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It should set the tone for possible future proceedings.

Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics, explained this earlier this week in an online press briefing: “There’s not a single sports federation out there that naturally wants to exclude teams or individuals. That’s not something that we came into the sport for. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was a game changer for international sport. We absolutely accept that this will set precedents and those precedents will have to be faced individually and sequentially and they will be with us for years. We haven’t made this easy on ourselves but it is still the right decision.”

Unlike most of his counterparts, Sebastian Coe speaks from experience. World Athletics did not wait for the war in Ukraine to wipe Russia off the world athletics map. Its federation, RusAF, has been excluded since the end of 2015 for having established a culture of doping on a national scale. The participation of Russian athletes was, until the last two weeks, conditional on obtaining neutrality status.