The political power of athletic sanctions

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sparked outrage across the world and led to severe sanctions being imposed against Russia. From banks, to Uber, to Hollywood, Western businesses are choosing to withdraw from the Russian market. The sports world has also taken action against Putin’s brutal invasion. Across the sports world, Russian national teams, athletes, and even Putin himself have been barred from various athletic institutions and competitions.

Two of the first major sporting federations to issue a ban against Russian national teams were UEFA, the European international body governing soccer in Europe, and FIFA, the worldwide governing body of soccer. The two bodies released a joint statement on Friday, Feb. 28 outlining a complete ban on Russian national and club teams from competing in either UEFA or FIFA competitions. This ban prevents the Russian men’s national team soccer team from participating in World Cup qualifying matches, effectively ending their chances of qualifying for the Qatar World Cup.

Previous bans against Russia in sports have fallen flat. For instance, Russia’s “ban” from the Beijing Olympics prohibited athletes from competing under the banner of “Russia” but allowed them to compete as athletes from the “Russian Olympic Committee” circumventing any tangible ban. The FIFA and UEFA bans prevents Russian soccer players from competing at all under a unified banner. Russia will not be able to gain any glory or recognition in soccer due to the unjust war that their president has chosen to undertake. Recently, the International Gymnastics Committee and the World Federation of Curling have also issued bans against Russia as the international sports community scrambles to react to Putin’s invasion.

The bans did not stop at just national teams with one federation targeting Putin himself. World Taekwondo stripped the Russian President of an honorary blackbelt he received in 2013. The symbolic move echoes a sentiment rippling across the world that pushes back on Putin’s strongman self-image. While these bans are rather miniscule in the massive conflict that has embroiled Ukraine, they serve as important indicators of how the world views the Russian President and their willingness to isolate Russia in response to this war.

Critics of the national team bans argue that the bans punish Russian athletes for a war they did not choose to undertake and that they may not agree with. While this is a valid argument, I believe that these bans are an important tool for the international community to use in their support of Ukraine. While it is regrettable that Russian athletes are punished, the bans put important pressure on Putin as they may help in small ways to push national favor against him in Russia. While it must be difficult for the Russian athletes losing out on an opportunity to compete in the sports they love, we must remember the Ukrainian citizens who are facing a deadly warzone and fighting for their country. At this critical point in world history, sports must take a back seat and join in the effort to help stop the violence taking place in Ukraine. 

 

wood10@stolaf.edu

 

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