The sports community should not reward Russia

Only when Russia ends its war on Ukraine should its sportsmen and women be allowed to once again participate in international sporting events.

When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the international community condemned the war. The globe quickly united as it sought to aid Ukraine, and the international community imposed stiff sanctions on the Russian Federation.

One of these punishments was to ban the Russians from international sports organisations.

For example, FIFA and UEFA suspended the Russian men’s and women’s national teams and Russian football clubs from competing in their competitions. The Russians were also prevented from participating in the qualification cycles for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the 2024 European Championships.

Outside of football, Russian athletes were informed that they would not be able to participate in various sporting competitions throughout the world. These international organisations stated that relations would only improve after the Russian Federation ended its unnecessary war.

But as the war approaches its one-year anniversary, some organisations are starting to reconsider these punishments. There is now a concern that they will ease sanctions on Russia.

For example, the Russian Football Union (RFU) is considering leaving UEFA. When the war began, FIFA and UEFA informed the Russian Federation that it would be suspended from international competitions. The suspension would be lifted only when the Russians ended their illegal and unnecessary war in Ukraine.

In response, Russia submitted appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). These cases were dismissed. CAS sided with FIFA and UEFA, stating the war needed to end.

Russia looks east

Unsatisfied with this response, the Russians are considering the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). The RFU believes that joining the AFC would allow the Russians to compete again in international tournaments.

The presence of the RFU in UEFA contradicts the national interests of Russia,” Russian State Duma Deputy Roman Teryushkov said in an interview with sports.ru. “It is impossible to build sports friendship with countries unfriendly to [Russia],” he added.

There is a reason why the international community has been “unfriendly” to Russia. The Russians launched an illegal and unnecessary invasion. Their war has led to the deaths of tens of thousands and the displacement of millions. The Russian war has been devastating and destructive, and the Russians should be punished for these actions. Sanctions and other forms of punishment should not be eased until Russia’s war ends, Ukraine is rebuilt, and the Russian-occupied territories are returned to Ukraine.

If the AFC welcomes the RFU, this will signal that the international community is taking a tremendous step in the wrong direction. It would reward Russia for its behaviour and inform authoritarian rulers they can invade their neighbours without consequence.

There is no guarantee that the AFC would accept Russia. Countries such as Japan and Australia, who have been very supportive of Ukraine, would likely try to block Russia’s bid. But it is shocking that Russia is even being considered.

Similarly, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), like the AFC, has recently turned heads. In a recent statement, the IOC announced that it would allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in the upcoming 2024 Summer Olympic Games. The Asian Olympic Community stated that it would enable “Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in events under its jurisdiction” rather than having these athletes compete under their own banners. In a shocking decision, the IOC executive board members approved this proposal.

“No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport,” the IOC executive board stated.

Understandably, the Ukrainians condemned the IOC’s decision.

In a statement issued by Ukrainian Athletes and Global Athlete, these bodies argued that the IOC’s decision to “allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in qualifiers to attend the 2024 Paris Olympic Games sends a message to the world that the [IOC] endorses Russia’s brutal war and invasion of Ukraine.”

The groups added that the “suspension of both Russian and Belarusian athletes and their sporting officials must be fully reinstated until Russia withdraws completely from Ukraine.”

Competition is a luxury, not a right

Russian and Belarusian athletes are not responsible for Russia’s war. But competing in these international competitions is a luxury, not a given right. Allowing these athletes to compete in the AFC and IOC would suggest that relations are normalising, and it would allow the Russian invasion to continue without consequence.

Allowing these athletes to participate in these tournaments will suggest that the international community has learned nothing from Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Numerous Ukrainians have suffered from Russia’s war. How many more innocent lives need to be lost before the AFC and IOC take notice? End the war. Only then should the Russians participate in these sporting events.

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About the author

Mark Temnycky

Mark Temnycky

Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

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