A week after the Russian invasion in the Ukraine, world sport led by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has largely cut ties with the aggressors Russia and Belarus. Under great public pressure, the IOC gave direction in a statement on 28 February. A few hours later, the two federations with the highest turnover in the Olympic business besides the IOC acted: the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). Both excluded Russian teams from their competitions.
At the same time, in the middle of a war, UEFA terminated the sponsorship agreement with its long-time partner Gazprom. While the IOC decisions affect Russia and Belarus, FIFA and UEFA exempt Belarus from the sanctions.
This came a week after the first of so far five sanctions packages by the European Union – and two days after the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports and the The National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark called for Russia and Belarus to be completely excluded from sports. Two days feel like two months in times of war, when events are overlapping. Two days are half an eternity.
Only a few hours before the IOC declaration, the leaders of one of the most important National Olympic Committees, the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB), responded to the demands for Russia’s exclusion by saying that they would sound out the situation, wait and discuss it „in the coming weeks“.
One night later, almost simultaneously with the publication of the IOC statement, the DOSB declared in only a very few lines that they demanded the exclusion of the two warring nations.
This is how Olympic opportunism works.
Some propagandists of the Olympic movement are already hailing the beginning of a new era. Other usual suspects argue in all seriousness that the IOC has put political considerations above the interests of the poor Russian athletes. That is not acceptable.
Once again, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is brought into play, which must be alarming, because CAS is not a real court, but only an arbitration court dominated by the IOC. Grit Hartmann recently analysed the questionable role of CAS in detail for Play the Game.
There is no reason for cheering and exaggerating the initial decisions of leading sports organisations. By no means all international federations have taken drastic measures. In their initial reactions of the past few days, many Olympic federations (IF) have neither called the war a war, nor mentioned the aggressors Russia and Belarus, nor the supreme warmonger and mass murderer Vladimir Putin. This is only disgraceful, they have been using Russian propaganda until the end, for example, when they spoke of a „crisis in Ukraine“ or even only of a „situation“.
All this is reminiscent of the myth that Russia has already been punished severely since 2015 because of the state doping system – even if Russia has not really been punished consistently or completely excluded from the Olympic Games. There were always loopholes. Time and again, officials and lawyers have managed to pull off despicable tricks. The focus was never on the victims of the gigantic fraud, only on the perpetrator nation.
Anything less than a complete international ban on Russian and Belarusian sport for at least one Olympiad would be a mockery of all the victims of the war in Ukraine. Russia and Belarus should be rigorously banned completely from at least the 2024 Summer Games and Paralympics in Paris and the 2026 Winter Games in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo. Without any tricks. Without the participation of athletes and teams under IOC flags or whatever other mendacious solutions were available in the past.
The first decisions of the IOC, FIFA, UEFA, and some other organisations are no more than a start. They are less than the least that can be expected. They are less than what responsible lobby organisations of athletes, such as Athletes Germany or Global Athletes, have demanded. They are less than what some of the most active national federations – especially from Poland and the Nordic countries – have demanded.