The overlap of sport and politics is inevitable as the suspension of Russian teams shows

The overlap of sport and politics is inevitable as the suspension of Russian teams shows

World football’s governing body, FIFA, expelling all Russian teams, national representatives or club teams, from its competitions until further notice is the most severe of sporting sanctions imposed in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. The announcement was coordinated with UEFA, the European football watchdog, making the ban also applicable at continental level. The immediate victims will be Russia’s 2022 World Cup qualifier against Poland this month, and a possible qualifier against Sweden or the Czech Republic, and Spartak Moscow’s Europa League game against Poland. ‘German RB Leipzig. UEFA went further and ended a lucrative sponsorship deal (reportedly around $50m a year) with Russian gas giant Gazprom. Last week, UEFA moved the venue for this summer’s Champions League final from St Petersburg to Paris. Russian teams – not Russian athletes – were already serving a two-year ban from world competitions (until December 16, 2022) for the doping scandal first reported at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. FIFA’s first measures, announced on Sunday, were similar; of Russia playing without its flag and its national anthem, in neutral places and behind closed doors. A full ban came on the heels of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Monday recommending sports federations not to allow Russian athletes to “protect the integrity of global sports competitions”.

Whether the IOC indirectly forced FIFA’s hand remains unclear, but it has reignited the debate over whether athletes should pay the price for the machinations of their political leaders. The IOC, unlike a few individual sporting bodies, has often sought to prevent clean athletes from becoming collateral damage, a position it has also taken in the doping scandal. He based the recent ban recommendation on the need to ensure a level playing field, a sacrosanct Olympic ideal. If Russians can move freely to sports competitions while Ukrainians cannot due to the ongoing siege at home, it goes against this principle of fairness. Rather, the harshest penalties were reserved for Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, who was stripped of the Olympic Order (the Olympic movement’s highest honour) for violating the Olympic Truce, adopted by the General Assembly of United Nations on December 2 and in effect until March 20, seven days after the end of the Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing. The developments have also drawn attention to the owner of English football club Chelsea, Roman Abramovich, an oligarch. Even as UK lawmakers have called for sweeping economic sanctions targeting Russian companies to also cover Abramovich for his alleged ties to the Russian state, he has moved to place his club’s ‘stewardship and care’ under the “Chelsea Charitable Foundation”. The worlds of geopolitics and sport have long been intertwined. But they haven’t seemed so entangled in recent memory.