— Published 25 April 2022

Russia, from KO to chaos

Confusing. And even, come on, totally cacophonous. Since the IOC’s “recommendation” to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from international competitions, a certain amount of disorder has settled over the sports movement. Chaos is not far away.

The IOC is no stranger to it. The Olympic body was quick to open the sanctions box after the Russian army invaded Ukraine at the end of February, calling for the banning of athletes from the two belligerent countries. But it has still not suspended its own four Russian members (including two active members), despite pressure from the Swiss authorities.

As a result, the boat is rocking and threatening to leak. Over the last few days, there have been numerous examples of the sometimes very haphazard management of the Russian issue in the sports movement.

At the end of last week, the International Swimming Federation announced that it had suspended Russian swimmer Yevgeny Rylov, Olympic champion in the 100 and 200m backstroke at the Tokyo 2020 Games, for nine months. The suspension was for his participation last month in a pro-Vladimir Putin rally in Moscow. FINA’s disciplinary committee ruled that he had broken the rules by “allegedly participating in a pro-war rally“.

But according to the Russian agency TASS, Yevgeny Rylov is competing in the Russian swimming championships, which began on Sunday 24 April in Kazan. He is due to compete in the three backstroke distances, 50, 100 and 200m. The two-time Olympic champion is however suspended by FINA until next January. A suspension that he does not seem to care about. Nor does his federation. It has validated his participation. Its president, former swimmer Vladimir Salnikov, is nevertheless a member of the FINA Bureau.

Another case: boxing. Its international federation, the IBA, is still the only body in the Olympic movement, along with the ISSF (the International Shooting Sport Federation), that is still actively chaired by a Russian official. Elected in December 2020, Umar Kremlev has not relinquished his office since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine, even on a provisional basis.

The IBA announced it at the end of last week: Umar Kremlev will seek a new mandate next month at the body’s election congress in Istanbul. Of course, he will not be the only candidate, as Dutchman Boris van der Vorst has also applied. But the presence of Umar Kremlev as an outgoing candidate, representing a country banned from the Olympic movement, will give the election a more political dimension than ever.

Skating also has a curious landscape. Its international federation, the ISU, followed the IOC’s recommendation. It banned Russian and Belarusian athletes. But Russia and Belarus appear en masse in the list of countries bidding for international events over the next four years, unveiled by the ISU at the end of last week.

Russia has submitted four bids. Moscow, the capital, is bidding to host the World Junior Speed Skating Championships in 2025 and 2026. Sochi is bidding to host the World Junior Short Track Championships in 2025. Kolomna is bidding to host the European Speed Skating Championships in 2026

Belarus has submitted five bids to the ISU. The capital, Minsk, wants to host the World Junior Figure Skating Championships in 2024 and the European Speed Skating Championships in 2025.

In tennis, the decision by the Wimbledon organisers to ban Russian and Belarusian players continues to draw criticism from the community. WTA boss Steve Simon told the Tennis Podcast that the announcement was “extremely disappointing“. The American insisted: “The one thing our sport has always agreed on is that entry into our events has always been based upon merit and without discrimination.”

Steve Simon announced in the same interview that the WTA would soon convene its stakeholders to discuss the position. He hinted that a decision might be taken to apply “strong sanctions” against the Wimbledon organisers.

In tennis, excluding Russian and Belarusian athletes is considered discriminatory and punishable. Elsewhere in the sports movement, such a decision is applauded with both hands. Confused.