— Published 22 August 2023

For Russian leaders, borders are open

Is this a sign? With less than a year to go until the Paris 2024 Games, and the IOC continuing to put off its decision on whether individual athletes with neutral status should take part in Olympic events, the Russian sports movement is looking insistently abroad. Its leaders, in particular.

One after the other, three pieces of news from Moscow have made it abundantly clear: the time for isolation is over. Russian officials are packing their bags. They are no longer unwelcome in the Olympic movement.

First news: the Russian Bobsleigh Federation (RBF) has received an official letter from the world body (IBSF) inviting it to take part in the next annual congress. It is due to be held on 23 and 24 September 2023 in Santa Susanna, near Barcelona, Spain.

RBF secretary general Sergey Parkhomenko told TASS, adding that he and federation president Anatoly Pegov and vice-president Yelena Anikina planned to accept the invitation and attend the IBSF congress.

The Russian athletes have been suspended since mid-July 2022 from all bobsleigh and skeleton competitions organised under the aegis of the IBSF. Their suspension has not yet been lifted. But it is clear that the managers are no longer subject to the same regime. The IBSF is chaired by the Italian Ivo Ferriani, who is also a member of the IOC Executive Board.

In another announcement, one of Russia’s most internationally renowned football referees, Sergey Karasev, said on Monday 21 August that he was prepared to attend a meeting of the refereeing body organised by UEFA from 3 to 6 September in Nyons, Switzerland.

On 30 June, the press service of the Russian Football Association (RFU) explained that Sergey Karasev, 44, a FIFA international referee since 2010, had been invited to take part in UEFA’s training course for referees. However, his trip was subject to certain conditions, including obtaining a visa.

I have my visa and other documents, my plane ticket for 2 September, and I hope there will be no changes,” he told TASS. “I will travel to the meeting and then we will see. I was invited to attend after receiving an official letter and then collected all the documents, sent the relevant information, and now everything is fine. I’m ready to go.

Coincidentally, the President of the Russian Football Association, Alexander Dyukov (pictured above), also chose Monday 21 August to inform the national media of his intention to stand for re-election to the UEFA Executive Committee.

Elected to the European body’s executive committee in April 2021, Alexander Dyukov is due to serve until 2025. But he is already planning to extend his lease. “There is still a lot of time until 2025 and lots of things can change,” he explained this week. “Do I plan to be re-elected? If I’m still alive in 2025, then yes, I’ll stand again.”

Alexander Dyukov, 55, is not your average sports executive. He is best known in Russia for being the managing director of the Russian oil company Gazprom, which until recent months was presented as the main financial partner of the International Boxing Federation (IBA), chaired by his compatriot Umar Kremlev.

The Russian executive was also long-time chairman of the board of Zenit St Petersburg, winners of the Europa League in 2008 and Russian champions without interruption since 2019. Alexander Dyukov was elected president of the RFU in February 2019. At UEFA, as well as being a member of the Executive Committee, he is vice-chairman of the National Associations Committee and the Club Competitions Committee.