— Published 15 November 2023

Thomas Bach calls for a boycott of events organized by Russia

Does Thomas Bach have a penchant for repetition? For the past few months, the IOC President has been using the same words, or at least the same themes, to address the Olympic movement. The need for unity in these times of geopolitical tension, the emergence of e-sports and the creation of the eSport Olympics, the prospects offered by artificial intelligence.

Invited to give the welcome address at the Forum of International Federations on Monday November 13 in Lausanne, Thomas Bach reiterated a speech he had already given last month at the opening of the 141st IOC Session in Mumbai. He took up the same themes: unity, eSport and AI. But this time, he gave them an even more political dimension.

He referred to the current geopolitical context, suggesting that sport could play a “unifying” role in these very troubled times. “Our role is clear: to unite – and not to aggravate dissension“, continued Thomas Bach, insisting at length on the indispensable autonomy of the sporting movement.

Your autonomy as an international sports federation is under threat, he assured his audience. Some would like to decide which athletes take part in which competitions. Others would like to decide where competitions should be held. Still others would like to organize their own sporting events for political purposes. In the latter case in particular, this would mean a government taking control of international sport. If this were the case, your role and that of the Olympic movement would become obsolete.”

Then the IOC President pointed the finger, without naming it, at Russia and its desire to organize its own international multi-sport competitions next year. At the top of the list were the BRICS Games, announced for June in Kazan. The IOC doesn’t want it. It is even calling on the international federations to turn their backs on them.

I invite everyone to oppose this politicization of sport, hammered Thomas Bach from the podium on Monday November 13, before an audience of presidents and representatives of international federations. None of us should participate in any way whatsoever in such supposedly sporting events with a political aim.”

The message is clear: the IOC is calling for a boycott of an event where Russia hopes to attract at least the BRICS countries (Brazil, China, India and South Africa), and if possible a handful of other non-aligned nations. Brazil’s ambassador to Moscow recently suggested that his country might respond favorably to the invitation.

Coincidentally, on Tuesday November 14, Russia lifted the veil on its first Future Games. They are to be held from February 21 to March 3, 2024 in Kazan. On the program, a mix of traditional sporting disciplines and e-sports, with the use of robotics, augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR), and of course artificial intelligence (AI). At stake is a $25 million prize.

Proof of the importance of the event: Vladimir Putin himself was keen to mark D – 100 days before the opening. The head of the Kremlin recorded a video for future participants. “For us, sport represents much more than a simple competition of strength or skill, or the foundation of a healthy, active lifestyle, he explains in his message. Sport is a symbol and embodiment of justice, equality and humanism, a means of promoting understanding between countries and nations. The fundamental importance of sport and the principles of Olympism form the very philosophy of the Future Games, which were born in Russia. The very idea of bringing together classic sports and cyber-sports reflects the image of a Russia open to all that is new, turned towards progress and capable at the same time of harmoniously combining its original heritage and modernity.”

With 100 days to go until the Games of the Future, Russia has also unveiled the event’s mascot. A firebird, designed by students from Tatarstan. According to the official version, it was chosen as a symbol of peace. How daring.