“The Cold War did not end, it merely shattered into a thousand pieces.” The opening of a lecture for a group of aspiring Russian spies in the Jennifer Lawrence blockbuster, Red Sparrow, might sound like a Western dystopian fantasy of modern-day Russia, but is actually not that far from the truth – at least the kind of truth that is believed in by many Russians. Their ranks include some of Vladimir Putin’s closest advisors. Security Council secretary, Nikolai Patrushev, frequently uses Cold War rhetoric to justify the invasion of Ukraine – and it is not a cinematic dramatisation but reality in which tens of thousands of lives have been lost. As of February this year, 220 of them were Ukrainian athletes and coaches killed by Russian troops since the beginning of the war.
And now, with the Paris 2024 Olympics around the corner, the participation of Russian athletes at the Games is an issue hotly disputed by the international sporting community.
But even in Ukraine, opinion is divided. While most athletes support the government’s decision to boycott the Games if Russian and Belarusian competitors are allowed to participate, some oppose it. “Such a decision will lead to the destruction of Ukrainian tennis, because players from these countries take part in almost every competition, and will become a sanction not against the Russians, but against the Ukrainians,” reads a statement from the Ukrainian tennis federation. Meanwhile, perhaps because of how close-knit the climbing community is, Ukrainian climbers cannot imagine stepping into the arena with their former Russian colleagues, most of whom have not condemned the invasion. Team Ukraine climber Jenya Kazbekhova called the boycott a “a personal and national tragedy” but firmly put the blame on the International Olympic Committee.
The IOC was urged by the Ukrainian government – supported by many other countries including Poland, the Baltic states and the UK – to ban Russian and Belarusian passport holders from Paris 2024. The IOC responded with the following statement:
“Athletes with a Russian or a Belarusian passport must compete only as Individual Neutral Athletes. Teams of athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport cannot be considered. Athletes who actively support the war cannot compete. Support personnel who actively support the war cannot be entered. Athletes who are contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies cannot compete. Support personnel who are contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies cannot be entered.”
In the past, various countries have been banned from the Games, including Germany and South Africa, but in recent years, the IOC has strived to establish itself as more apolitical. Officials went as far as to question the “autonomy of Ukrainian sport” in the face of the government-ordered boycott. They have also pointed out that, apart from Russia, there are approximately seventy nation states unlawfully involved in armed conflicts around the world and none of them are currently excluded from the Games.
However, given that many Russian athletes have links to the military, or accept medals from the state for their international performances, it is difficult to imagine how... continue reading→