— Published 12 June 2023

Russians bring in the big bucks but stay on the doorstep

A simple pause before the start of the new season? Unlike the vast majority of summer Olympic sports, skating continues to keep Russian and Belarusian athletes out of its competitions.

Its international body, the ISU, announced on Sunday June 11 in a rather terse press release the decision of its board to maintain the suspension of skaters from the two countries, decided at the beginning of March 2022, after the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

The ISU’s decision was expected. However, given the current trend within the Olympic movement, it was likely to be the opposite. In recent weeks, one international federation after another has followed the recommendations of the IOC Executive Board to reinstate Russian and Belarusian athletes.

World Rowing was the latest to join the movement. Earlier in June, the International Badminton Federation (BWF) also sided with the IOC, having initially decided to maintain the suspension of the Russian and Belarusian players.

The ISU explains in its press release that its Board members, meeting over the weekend in Budapest, examined in detail the recommendations of the IOC Executive Board. They decided to “explore feasibility issues regarding potential ways of implementing” these recommendations in skating disciplines. Clearly, they are not completely turning their backs on the possible return of Russian and Belarusian athletes. But in the meantime, skaters from both countries remain suspended.

The ISU’s press release makes it clear: the ISU has chosen Ukraine’s side. “The International Skating Union (ISU) has supported the skating federations of Ukraine since the beginning of the war, implementing ISU communication 2469 and also granting financial support to help Ukrainian skaters, the text insists. The ISU reiterates its sympathy and solidarity with all those affected by the war in Ukraine. It maintains its condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the strongest possible terms.

In Moscow, the ISU’s decision was commented on without restraint by a number of figure skating greats. At the top of the list was Tatiana Navka, the Olympic ice dance champion at the 2006 Turin Games, and a staunch supporter of Vladimir Putin’s regime since her marriage to Dmitry Peskov, the Russian president’s press secretary.

Stupidity and injustice, she told the sport-express website. Once again, the ISU shows that people use sport to achieve some of their goals. We hoped that reason would prevail. But apparently it hasn’t.

Coach Tatyana Tarasova was equally outraged. “The decision is unfair, she declared. How are we going to get back on the international stage? We should have people protecting us, but they don’t.

Ilya Averbukh, the silver medallist in ice dance at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, admits he is most worried about the next generation of Russian skaters. “I had no illusions about the ISU’s decision concerning the seniors, he told sport-express. But for the juniors, we were secretly hoping. They need international competitions. I’m very disappointed by this decision. I consider it illegal and detrimental to the development of figure skating worldwide! It’s a short-sighted decision. The level of skating will gradually stagnate.

Clearly, the ISU did not let purely financial considerations weigh on its decision. According to a report published on its official website, the suspension of the Russian athletes has already cost the ISU dearly. Their absence from international competitions since the end of the Beijing 2022 Winter Games is expected to result in losses this year estimated at 1 million Swiss francs. This is due to the absence of advertising and television rights revenues from Russia.