Should Russian athletes be banned from competitions?

Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, the world’s top-ranked tennis player, is ranked No. 1 in the grand tournament in Indian Wells, which is due to end this weekend.

Does he still have to play while his country invades Ukraine?

The Russian Alex Ovechkin is one of the most talented hockey players the world has ever seen. And, by the way, he is a longtime supporter of President Vladimir Putin. Should Ovechkin still score goals for the Washington Capitals in the NHL?

Should Russian citizens be admitted to the world sports scene right now?

In an attempt to condemn the sports-loving Putin and further isolate his nation, the sports world reacted with remarkable speed with the start of the war in Ukraine. We have seen that Russia is banned from qualifying for the World Cup and its basketball teams have been cut off from the international game. Tennis ended its tournament in Moscow, and Formula 1 ended its ties with the Russian Grand Prix.

Even the usually hesitant International Olympic Committee joined the mix, recommending that athletes from Russia and Belarus who supported the invasion be banned from sporting events, and the Paralympic Games, after some hesitation, did just that.

But the bans are not complete.

Many Russian athletes continue to prosper right in front of us. Individual players can still play in European football leagues. Ovechkin leads a strong Russian contingent in professional hockey, and the country’s tennis players continue to make a good living in professional tours, although they cannot participate in nationally identified tournaments.

Should the days of these players as competitors outside Russia be counted – at least until the end of the war and Ukraine’s sovereignty is restored?

Bruce Kidd thinks so. Kidd represented Canada at the 1964 Summer Olympics as a long-distance runner and has long been a leader in human rights in sports.

During the South African apartheid era, he helped lead the indictment of Canadian restrictions on South African athletes that came into force in the 1970s.

When I spoke to him last week, Kidd was adamant: Using hockey as an example that can spread around the world, he believes that Russian citizens in the NHL should be banned after the current season ends in June, their immigrant visas are stopped with an open door for asylum.

Such a move, of course, will not stop the war. But like his efforts during apartheid, the cessation of Russian sports will support economic sanctions, deprive Putin of the chance to enjoy the athletic exploits of Russian players and send a message of support to Ukraine.

“Argument 1 is to say: ‘Mr. “Putin, the sports community is so outraged by your repeated human rights violations, your violation of the fundamental values ​​of sport and fair play that we say it is enough,” said Kidd, whose idea was reflected in a similar form by the Ukrainian embassy. Canada. “We show you and your people our disgust.

Kidd, who is now ombudsman at the University of Toronto, knows that opponents will tell him that such a move is against the principles of a free society. Normally, he would agree. Not now.

All Russian athletes, he added, are highly visible representatives of the nation they come from, “whether they like it or not.”

I tend to agree with Kidd. But I’m also cautious. The exclusion of individual athletes is likely to add to the unfounded resentment shared by Putin and many in Russia. This can also fuel dangerous xenophobia against ordinary people of Russian descent.

That ominous silence of most Russian athletes, the refusal to say anything critical after the blood doping scandals and now the bombings and killings in Ukraine? No doubt some are silent because they support Putin and want to avoid controversy.

Some also remain silent for well-placed fears for their safety and that of the family in Russia.

If we exclude all sports stars from the aggressive nation in this war, what about those who took the risk to speak out against it?

Note that Calgary Flames defender Nikita Zadorov is one of the few current Russian hockey players to oppose Putin’s aggression. He posted a photo on Instagram with the words “NO WAR” and “Stop!”

Dan Milstein, an agent who represents many Russian hockey players in the NHL, said Zadorov had gone public, even though he knew he would probably never play for the Russian national team again and that his family could be in danger.

Milstein is Ukrainian. He immigrated to the United States in 1991, when the Soviet Union disintegrated. Still, he unreservedly supports the Russian citizens who are his clients: professional players and a team of teenagers playing in the talented Canadian Hockey League, which this month canceled its annual series against Russia in response to the war.

When I spoke to Milstein recently, I heard fear and anger in his voice.

“I feel very bad for my homeland, for the people there, the children,” he said. “But at the same time, I am extremely saddened by the way some people around the world treat innocent hockey players, not only professionals but also teenagers. They have done nothing but work their tails for many years, for a chance, for a dream, to play in the best league in the world. And now they are potentially denied the opportunity because they were born in Russia.

“Following them,” he added, “is the pursuit of sinful boys.”

There are no winners here. There are no easy answers in a situation that feels as awful as any that the world has faced for decades.

Russian athletes are personalities, like all of us, full of dreams, fear and courage.

But they are also symbols – powerful representatives of a nation engaged as an aggressor in a heinous war. Why do we allow any of them to play?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.