Espreso. Global

What hides behind Russia's presence at Paris Olympics?

7 February, 2023 Tuesday
15:07

With the 2024 Summer Olympic Games 18 months away, the decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete sparks outrage as it could be a dangerous precedent of normalizing Russian invasion of Ukraine

Sports and politics are separate, say supporters of Russian and Belarusian athletes returning to the Paris Olympics in 2024. They keep asserting that sport promotes international peace and unity.  However, this is not the case. 

The controversy surrounding the possible admission of Russian and Belarussian athletes to international competitions is not fading away. Many critics slam the IOC decision as a step toward normalizing relations with Russia despite the Kremlin's ongoing brutal war on Ukraine.

Sports ministers of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland opposed participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the 2024 Olympics. 

"At a time when free and democratic countries unite their forces to increase support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia‘s war of aggression supported by its ally Belarus and impose more sanctions on Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, the IOC launches the search for special forms of participation for athletes from Russia and Belarus in international sports competitions including the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, allowing sport to be used to legitimise and distract attention from Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine," they said in a joint statement. 

For its part, the IOC continues to defend its position. “The IOC rejects in the strongest possible terms defamatory statements of this kind made by some Ukrainian officials. They are totally unacceptable and cannot serve as a basis for any constructive discussion,” the official IOC website says.

A joint statement from a coalition of Ukrainian athletes and the Global Athlete movement drew attention to Russia’s practice of using the Olympics for propaganda purposes.

“Russia used the Sochi Olympics to bolster its international standing before annexing Crimea,” the statement highlighted. “Russia has proven time and time again that athletes are an integral part of its foreign policy. If Russian athletes are allowed to return to international competition, the Russian state will again use athletes to bolster the war effort and distract from the atrocities in Ukraine.”

For its part, the IOC continues to defend its position. “The IOC rejects in the strongest possible terms defamatory statements of this kind made by some Ukrainian officials. They are totally unacceptable and cannot serve as a basis for any constructive discussion,” the official IOC website says.

Furthermore, the IOC is openly manipulating the issue. The Committee maintains that the request to exclude Russia and Belarus from the Olympics is the only one of its kind. It notes that other parties involved in military conflicts around the world have not made similar requests.

At the same time, the IOC notes that countries have been barred from participating in competitions. For example, South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the Committee hides behind the fact that the South African team was barred due to UN sanctions imposed for the crime of apartheid. The Committee notes that "at this time, there are no UN sanctions in place against Russia and Belarus."

Unfortunately, this is another case of manipulation. The UN General Assembly condemned Russia's aggression against Ukraine, but sanctions from the UN are nearly impossible.

Obviously, the UN will not sanction Russia because it is a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power. Russia, of course, will never vote against itself. Obviously, the IOC realizes this and implements the standard tactic of manipulating the law to conceal and justify its actions.

Fake neutrality 

Nevertheless, the IOC remains committed to its decision of 9 December 2022 that

  • no international sports events being organized or supported by an IF or NOC in Russia or Belarus.

  • no flag, anthem, colors or any other identifications whatsoever of these countries being displayed at any sport event or meeting, including the entire venue.

  • no Russian and Belarusian Government or State official should be invited to or accredited for any international sporting event or meeting.

However the neutrality of Russian athletes is questioned by many. 

 

Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, provided statistics that Russia won 71 medals at the Tokyo Olympics. 45 of them were won by athletes who are also members of the Central Sports Club of the Russian Army. The army that commits atrocities, kills, rapes, and loots. This is whom the IOC wants to compete.

The Insight News gives the example of seemingly ‘neutral’ Russian four-time Olympic artistic gymnast champion Maria Paseka. She has not visited the Russian military on the frontline, she has not been seen at Russian pro-government rallies in support of war in Ukraine. Can she be among those athletes who may be allowed to compete under a neutral flag?

Here’s Maria’s Instagram post. 

 

 

“The sanctions imposed on Russia have already reached the point of absurdity. Everyone understands that. Big sports and politics have always been separable, at all times. Moreover, sports have united and been a symbol of reconciliation, especially during the Olympic Games. The IOC and the IPC have compromised themselves completely by succumbing to the general anti-Russian hysteria. The IOC!!! … whose job it is to ensure neutrality for all participating countries. Alas and ah, we live in a new reality… But this only makes us, Russian athletes, stronger and more ready to win, stepping onto the podium to the National Anthem of Great Russia.”

Maria accompanied her post with such hashtags as “Great Russia”, “For peace” (#zамир), “For sport” (#zаспорт). She used the letter Z which is a symbol of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

She talked about peace when her country has become the aggressor, and about the ‘neutrality’ of sports and the Olympic movement, at the same time declaring her intention to “go to the podiums to the anthem of great Russia.”

It is natural for citizens of their countries to be patriots, to love their country's symbols, and to carry their country's values to the rest of the world. Even if we ignore the fact that Russia has launched the largest war in Europe since World War II for a while, we will soon realize that Russian and Belarusian athletes will not be completely neutral. They will be inextricably tied to the state they came from. Here's a photo from Maria's Instagram from November 2022 that shows Russian symbols.

 

 

Recently, Belarusian tennis player Arina Sabalenka, playing in a neutral status, won the Australian Open. After winning, she told reporters, “I think everyone still knows that I’m a Belarusian player.” Later, the press service of the self-proclaimed president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko congratulated the tennis player on her victory. This proves that any victory of athletes, even in neutral status, will be used by dictators for their purposes.

And that’s why we should go back to the position of the IOC. Why do they keep talking about sports as a platform without borders and a platform for reconciliation?

Corruption wins, and sport loses

The Olympic movement is a massive mechanism, The Insight News explains.  Each country that wishes to compete in the Olympic Games must have an IOC-approved national Olympic committee. By the early 21st century, there were over 200 such committees.

A NOC must be made up of at least five national sporting federations, each of which is affiliated with an appropriate international federation.

There must be an international federation (IF) for each Olympic sport, to which a sufficient number of applicable national governing bodies must belong. On a global scale, the IFs promote and regulate their sport.

This structure includes not only people but also equipment, buildings, machinery, and so on. The larger the structure, the higher the cost of keeping it.

But where does the money come from then? Membership fees, donations, sponsorship, and the sale of advertising rights or game broadcasting are all official sources of revenue. There are also unofficial sources of funding, such as when deciding which city will host the next Olympics. The Olympics are a means for the Olympic Committee to make money.

It is an entire framework for potential corruption. The Olympics are costly. Building sports facilities and all of the necessary infrastructure is extremely expensive. Even in the construction of the facilities, unscrupulous officials, both from the IOC and national bureaucracies, are likely to be interested.

There have been numerous corruption scandals in the IOC's history.

For example, as The Guardian reports, Japanese police this summer arrested Haruyuki Takahashi, the former head of the Tokyo Olympics, on suspicion of accepting bribes in exchange for helping companies become official sponsors for last year’s event. Takahashi, who is believed to have played a key role in choosing sponsors, was indicted for the fourth time, and the former senior managing director of Japan’s largest advertising agency Dentsu is suspected of accepting 198 million yen (£1.2 million) in bribes from five firms.

Global Investigative Journalism Network published a compilation of the 8 most high-profile investigations into Olympic-related corruption crimes where, among others, the massive doping scandal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia is mentioned. Reportedly the Russian FSB was involved in the cover-up of doping sample swapping.

According to The Atlantic, the economic challenge of hosting the games explains another recurring issue: repressive states weaponizing the Olympics. Despite the high cost of hosting the Olympics, the Games provide the host country with the opportunity to showcase its might and clean up its reputation on the global stage.

But perhaps the main reason the IOC has not excluded autocracies from the Games is that doing so is simply not in the committee's best interests. According to Thomas Könecke and Michiel de Nooij's 2017 report, "keeping good working relations with authoritarian governments helps the IOC secure the future of its main revenue, the Olympic Games, thus providing for its own future." Simply put, collaborating with autocracies pays off.

And any attempts to persuade the IOC went unanswered. Almost in the same way that Ukraine is currently attempting to influence the IOC.

Thus, the admission of Russian and Belarussian athletes to international events is not a question of apoliticality, neutrality, or the Olympic Charter's principles. It comes down to money.

There will be no Russian sports federations or fees if there are no Russian athletes. There will be no 140 million audience without Russian athletes, which means no sponsorship and advertising revenue because Russian businesses will not fund it.

The IOC requires funds, and Russia, as an autocracy, requires a platform to advertise and magnify itself. This is why the Olympics exist.

That's where their interests merge.

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