On Monday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) urged sports federations across the globe to shut the door on Russian and Belarusian participation across all events, be it athletes or officials. On the face of it, this sounds a bit harsh because athletes and/or officials may not have much to do with the actions of the government. It’s not like Daniil Medvedev, the newly crowned men’s world No 1 in tennis, signed off the order to invade Ukraine. The world’s greatest leaders understand the power sports wields. Sporting powerhouses like the US, Russia and China very well know the dominant role sports plays in geo-politics. Sports in a way is like the alter-ego that marks the ebb and flow of a nation. Whether or not sanctions are effective, there is not much evidence. But yes, players do suffer.
However, there is historical precedence of such actions. When war had first started in the Balkans in 1992, heavy sanctions were placed on Yugoslavia. As the bombings in Sarajevo intensified, sports bodies moved quickly to lock Yugoslavian athletes from the world’s arenas. They were banned from competing at the 1992 Euros. At the Olympics later that year, they competed under the ‘Independent Olympic Participants’ banner. It’s ultimately unfair on the sportspersons—several of whom have publicly come out against Russia’s actions last week—but sporting federations have previously resorted to blanket bans.
Going forward, the onus will be on the IOC, FIFA and other sporting bodies to be more accountable and egalitarian in its approach. Ironically, Russia is one of the few countries that’s hosted both the Olympics (Winter and Summer), a football World Cup and World Championships in athletics and swimming (two of the Summer Games’ mother sports) within the last 10 years. And the country had hosted all of these events after the Russian occupation in Georgia in 2008. Several other nations are involved in waging a war in other countries (Yemen and Somalia) right now. What about Iraq? War is devastating. Yet there were occasions when the IOC or FIFA was selective in its approach. Perhaps after this, they would be under pressure to act every time war rages on.