— Published 20 March 2023

Vyacheslav Fetisov, the man who sees nothing coming

Will the Russian athletes participate in the Games of Paris 2024? With less than 500 days of the event (D – 494 this Monday, March 20), the question remains without answer. The IOC assures “to explore a way” to bring them back on the international sports scene, but without risking to advance a calendar or a concrete approach. In short, time is passing and nothing is happening.

In Russia, a new voice has just entered the debate. It is a prestigious one. Vyacheslav Fetisov (photo above, on the right, with Vladimir Putin), the legend of ice hockey, Olympic champion with the USSR in 1984 in Sarajevo and then four years later in Calgary, expressed his point of view during an interview with the TASS agency. It is clear-cut. But, surprise, the former defenseman passed through the professional ranks in the NHL does not believe in a return of athletes from his country in international competitions.

For things to happen, there would have to be steps, a real process, he explained. But right now, I don’t see anything like that. Sure, we have chess and tennis players who are playing at the world level. But that’s about it. Our field hockey players, too, can play in the NHL, but that has nothing to do with the international federation.

Vyacheslav Fetisov points to the International Fencing Federation (FIE), the first and only federation – apart from the IBA, which is excluded from the Olympic movement – to vote for the conditional return of Russian and Belarusian athletes. “It was headed for a long time by Russian Alisher Usmanov, so we still have some influence and our sports results are very good in fencing, he suggests. But we can’t say the same about other sports.

The 64-year-old Vyacheslav Fetisov is not only one of the greatest field hockey players Russia has ever known. Often touted as a close friend of Vladimir Putin, he has served as Minister of Sports. Since 2016, he has been a member of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament. Member of the United Russia party, he was among the eight flag bearers at the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Games in 2014.

Obviously, the Russian does not believe in the announcements of the IOC about its willingness to explore a way for athletes from his country to find the international scene. He invites the Russian sports federations to mobilize and make common cause to put pressure on the Olympic body.

We must put pressure on the IOC, he told TASS agency, because so far it has issued recommendations to international federations that have no legal value. We also hear Thomas Bach making recommendations, but without official authority.”

Vyacheslav Fetisov is not fooled by the game of the IOC and its president, who are both trying to gain time. But the Russian deputy hammers it: the exclusion of Russian athletes since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine is contrary to the Olympic Charter.

If this exclusion is related to the special military operation (in Ukraine), then the IOC should include a new clause in the Charter according to which a country involved in a military conflict should be banned from international events, insists Vyacheslav Fetisov. But in such a scenario, the IOC would cease to be a sports organization and become a military-political organization. We would have to ask it to make this decision or to bring our athletes back to the international arena. There are currently more than 25 armed conflicts in the world, but everything is focused on this one conflict, which concerns our country.