The international sports world, which has never been known for doing the right thing, especially when money was on the line, is doing the right thing.
The world’s sports federations are rallying behind Ukraine and doing what they can to push back against the Russian invasion. Governments are freezing Russian assets, companies are refusing to do business with the Russians, and now sports federations are saying they won’t play games with the Russians.
It’s a relatively small gesture of course; on the other hand, sports must be a big deal for a country that goes to great expense and trouble — including in-your-face cheating via an extensive, state-sponsored drug program for its athletes — to prove themselves superior on the athletic field. It’s one more signal to the Russians and evil tyrant Vladimir Putin that the world stands with Ukraine with a solidarity rarely seen in history.
The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) is moving the finals of the Champions League from St. Petersburg to Paris and is expected to ban Spartak Moscow from the Europa League. The federations for skiing and Formula One withdrew races scheduled to take place in Russia.
FIFA — the international governing body for soccer — originally announced that Russia must play its games on a neutral field, without the country’s flag and name, instead competing under the title of Football Union of Russia. This was borrowing a crusty old copout that the IOC used to allow Russia to participate in the Olympics despite drug penalties, and it drew immediate criticism; it wasn’t nearly enough.
British politician Chris Bryant said he was “spitting with fury at FIFA. … Do FIFA not understand,” he told the Telegraph. “… It’s an absolute disgrace. We cannot go down in history as the generation that refused to do everything that was in our power.”
“Our stance remains intact — the Polish national team will not play with Russia, no matter what the name of the team is,” said Cezary Kulesza, president of Poland’s football association. … No words, time to act!”
Poland was one of seven national federations — the others being Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, Sweden and the Czech Republic — that announced they would not play Russia anywhere, period.
FIFA buckled under the criticism, announcing that it will suspend Russia, which means the outlaw country would be excluded from the men’s World Cup qualification competition in March. Russia was supposed to play Poland in late March.
Even the International Olympic Committee, which has been too cozy with Russia for years and rolled over for Putin like a faithful dog, has joined the world’s rejection of Putin. The IOC formally urged the various sports governing bodies to cancel or move events out of Russia and to stop flying Russian flags at their events. The IOC has made a plea not to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete.
The IOC condemned the Russian invasion as a breach of the Olympic truce, which mandates peace among participating nations beginning seven days before the start of the Olympics (Feb. 4) and ending seven days after the end of the Paralympic Games (March 20). The Russian invasion began four days after the closing ceremonies in Beijing. The original intent of the Olympic truce, dating back several centuries, was to ensure the host city would not be attacked and that athletes would be safe traveling to and returning from the Games.
Putin attended the opening ceremonies in Beijing. You have to wonder now what he was thinking when he heard IOC president Thomas Bach’s speech.
“In our fragile world — where division, conflict and mistrust are on the rise — we show the world, yes, it is possible to be fierce rivals while at the same time living peacefully and respectfully together,” Bach said. “In this Olympic spirit of peace, I appeal to all political authorities across the world: Observe your commitment to this Olympic truth. Give peace a chance.”
Until now the sports world had been willing to play games with and in Russia — including the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and the FIFA World Cup in 2018 — despite signs that the country was heading down a dark path. But all that has changed. There will be no international games for Russia until the situation in Ukraine is resolved.