— Published 13 September 2023

For Putin, the IOC has perverted Coubertin’s idea

The setting and the occasion didn’t really seem to lend themselves to it, but the urge was undoubtedly too strong. Present this week in Vladivostok for a plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum 2023 (EEF), Vladimir Putin spoke about sport, Olympism and the sporting movement. The Russian president did it his way, without taking the gloves off. With a clear target: the IOC.

I think that the current leaders of the international federations and the International Olympic Committee are perverting Pierre de Coubertin’s original idea, Vladimir Putin told his audience. Sport must go beyond politics. It must unite, not divide people.”

So much for the introduction. A reference to Pierre de Coubertin. And the first salvo of criticism of the IOC and the presidents of the international federations. The rest remained in the same tone.

But what has happened over the past decade, Vladimir Putin continued. The Olympic Movement has been trapped by financial interests. We have witnessed the unacceptable commercialization of world sport and the international Olympic movement. Sport is not just about setting records. It’s also about bringing people together. But the world Olympic movement has abandoned this role. This is very unfortunate for the Olympic movement itself, because alternative movements will start to emerge one way or another. And there’s nothing we can do about it, because this process is objective and impartial.”

In Vladivostok, Vladimir Putin didn’t directly mention the Paris 2024 Games and the absence of the Russian flag, anthem and colors, but he did reconfirm his country’s intention to organize its own events next year. Top of the list is the first BRICS Games, scheduled for June 12-23 in Kazan. With just a month and a handful of days to go before the Olympic Games, they should feature around twenty sports and bring together at least the member countries of the organization (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

According to the Russian media, the idea of creating such a multi-sport event came from Vladimir Putin himself. He reportedly floated the idea last May at a government meeting, calling on the relevant ministries to get down to work as quickly as possible to come up with a concept. Since then, the man from the Kremlin seems to have made it a personal affair.

He repeated it this week at the Eastern Economic Forum: the event will be open to all. “Next year, we will host the BRICS Games, he declared on Tuesday September 12 in Vladivostok. Everyone will be happy to take part. Everyone who is apolitical.”

A strategy devised in high places? Faced with the IOC and the Olympic movement, Vladimir Putin and his Sports Minister, Oleg Matytsin, are not saying the same thing. The former is very offensive. He hits without holding back. The latter is more nuanced. He calls for dialogue.

Less than a week after the Head of State’s statements in Vladivostok, Oleg Matytsin spoke at a meeting of the Ministry of Sport’s board of directors about Russia’s position in the Olympic movement. The former FISU president chose very neutral words.

We need to understand what role Russia will play in the world of sport in the next 5 to 10 years, and start today to establish cooperation with the IOC and international federations, Oleg Matytsin had calmly explained. We need to understand the outlook, both in terms of the forthcoming elections and the state of our participation in international competitions. Next year will be a pivotal one.”