Protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is spreading within sports. Multiple teams in the European soccer UEFA league have refused to play Russian clubs, and Russian athletes are banned from the world figure skating championships scheduled for later this month in France.
The International Olympic Committee has advised sports associations to remove athletes and executives from Russia, as well as those from Belarus which aided the former’s military operation in Ukraine.
It was initially decided that athletes from the two countries would be allowed to participate in the Beijing Winter Paralympics commencing March 4. They would not have represented their respective nations, but been “neutrals.” However, in response to strong opposition by athletes from Ukraine and other countries, the International Paralympic Committee made an about-face, last-minute decision not to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete.
Sport is meant to constitute an individual’s free activity and be free of politics. At the same time, it cannot be divorced from social movements.
In December 2021, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Olympic Truce ahead of the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics. It is effective until a week after the 2022 Paralympic Games close. Despite Russia being a joint sponsor country for the peace treaty, it breached the resolution by launching attacks on Ukraine as soon as the Olympics ended.
This is Russia’s third time trampling on the festival of peace with use of force. During the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, Moscow intervened in a conflict in Georgia on the day of the opening ceremony. Right before the 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympics, it advanced on Crimea, a peninsula in south Ukraine.
The 2022 Paralympics will be held in wartime when civilians in Ukraine have fallen victim to Russian attacks. The responsibility for the circumstances lies with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched the military operation to invade his neighbor.
Russian sports have enjoyed generous government support since the Soviet Union. Even today, its athletes remain heavily influenced by their government to embody a “strong Russia.”
Russia’s systematic doping operations came to light relatively recently, and the country has since been suspended from major international sports events.
The Paralympics has its roots in an initiative to help wounded soldiers return to society. The Games signify prayers for peace. We hope the sports world empathizes with this aspect of the Paralympics and continues to send a message.