— Published 8 September 2022

Russia’s time of isolation is over

A coincidence of timing? While the IOC is due to hold its executive board meeting in Lausanne on Thursday 8 September, for the penultimate time of the year, Russia is going on the offensive to end its isolation from the Olympic movement. It is doing so with words. But it could soon take action.

Words, first of all. In Vladivostok, where the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) is being held this week, Russian officials have been talking to the media, including the TASS press agency, about the status of athletes and their short-term future in the Olympic movement. With one leitmotiv: their exclusion must end.

Dmitry Chernyshenko, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister, known in the international sports movement for having chaired the organising committee of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, spoke on behalf of the Kremlin. He spoke about the Paris 2024 Games. “We are preparing for the participation of our Olympic team in the next Summer Olympics,” explained Dmitry Chernyshenko. We will see what happens.

A notch below, but also very high up, is the Russian Minister of Sport, Oleg Matytsin. Present in Vladivostok, he was a little more concrete than his government colleague. Repeating a speech already made in recent weeks, the former table tennis player explained that Russia would soon be organising international sporting competitions where its athletes could express themselves.

“We keep extending invitations to our colleagues from the BRICS and the SCO to come and participate in competitions or bilateral meetings,” Oleg Matytsin said at the Eastern Economic Forum. “We will have to use all formats of participation for our athletes in accordance with the principles of Olympism. We are not isolating ourselves. Our president’s position is that we are a self-sufficient sporting power with considerable resources.”

The message is clear: excluded from the international sports movement at the request of the IOC, Russia is turning to its allies to organise its own competitions. In addition to Russia, the BRICS include Brazil, India, China and South Africa. The SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), on the other hand, includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India, Pakistan and Iran.

Now it’s time for action. Oleg Matytsin told the media that this year, for the first time in 30 years, Russia has revived the Spartakiades tournaments, a mass sports gathering created during the Soviet Union. “We are going to organise them every four years,” the sports minister said.

Another decision: the Russian government will set up a system of bonuses for athletes and their coaches. These bonuses could be distributed in exchange for participation in future competitions that Russia wishes to organise with its allied countries.

In parallel, Russia is preparing to challenge the IOC’s recommendation to international federations to ban its athletes. Viacheslav Fetisov, the Russian ice hockey legend and two-time Olympic gold medallist (Sarajevo 1984 and Calgary 1988), told the TASS agency that the athletes would very officially ask Thomas Bach for explanations. They want to obtain a justification for this exclusion, “which is not provided for by the Olympic Charter”.

According to Viacheslav Fetisov, the current first deputy chairman of the Duma’s physical culture and sports commission, a group of Russian Olympic champions is working on the best way to address the IOC and its president. But the decision has been made.

“There is no provision in the Olympic Charter for athletes to be banned for political reasons,” he explained. “Otherwise, we would have to demand changes not only in the Charter, but also in the statutes of the international federations. But then the sports movement would no longer be able to claim to be one, because sport is meant to unite people and create an atmosphere of unity.”