Should Russian Athletes be Banned from Sporting Events?
BY AVNI MISHRA '23
In Eastern Europe, violence rages as Russian forces attack the streets of major Ukrainian cities and towns. The international conflict comes at a cross section of many global sporting events. However, as conflict between Ukraine and Russia escalates while events like the World Cup proceed, a new debate topic comes into question: Is it fair to punish the athletes of a nation for their leader’s actions? The answer, like the general discourse over the morality of war, is uncertain. Neither side is completely moral, but it is ultimately in the interest of international security to implement sporting bans on Russian competitors.
Over the past few months, multiple sporting organizations have prohibited Russian athletes from participating in their events. FIFA suspended the Russian soccer team from qualifying for the World Cup, the Paralympics banned Russian and Belarusian athletes, and Formula One, a popular racing competition, rescinded their contract to host the Grand Prix in Sochi. The International Olympics Committee, having already ended their 2022 winter games, strongly suggested that other sporting organizations ban Russian athletes from participating—or, at the very least, make them compete individually; multiple organizations for rugby, tennis, ice hockey, basketball, and other sports have followed suit.
These bans can aid in denouncing the actions of a country; when global organizations unite in opposition to Russia, it sends Russian government officials the message that their actions will not be tolerated by the rest of the world. The platform of sporting events is particularly effective against President Vladimir Putin who has prided himself on Russian accomplishments and funded many events in soccer, racing, martial arts, and many more, so long as they are hosted in Moscow, Sochi, or St. Petersburg.
In this manner, trade sanctions behave similarly. After Russia’s initial invasion on February 22nd, the U.S., France, Australia, and other countries have placed 4,362 sanctions on Russia. These sanctions are projected to cripple the Russian economy; inflation rates are predicted to rise by 20%, and unemployment is expected to double. Further, imported goods are not entering the country, leaving Russia with a shortage of supplies. Shoppers are panic-buying out supermarkets and stores, worsening the situation. These sanctions represent the world's rejection of Putin's actions; however, the people bearing the consequences are citizens who did not call for an invasion of Ukraine. Banning Russian athletes seems far more reasonable than trade sanctions that drastically affect a larger number of people. Especially for the Olympics, an event that was founded on global peace and unity through sports, taking these measures only reinforces their ideals. For this reason, other international sporting events that promote unity should follow suit and prohibit Russian athletes.
Nonetheless, an argument can be made for the opposition. An individual does not inherently reflect the actions of their government, and punishing the citizens does little to affect the policies of Putin’s administration. Furthermore, by banning all Russian athletes, we risk taking a platform away from those who oppose Putin’s actions. For example, on February 25th, Russian tennis player Andrey Rublev wrote “No War Please” on the camera following his semi-final match. His message made headlines and shed light on the Russian citizens’ thoughts and wishes over this conflict. In removing all Russian influence, we remove powerful voices like Rublev’s. Additionally, by equating the Russian government’s actions to those of the citizens, we risk creating xenophobic attitudes towards Russian people. This circumstance has occurred before during the Second World War, when Japanese Americans were put into internment camps after the U.S. declared war on Japan, creating lasting prejudice and discrimination that continues to affect Japanese Americans today.
This debate rages alongside Russia’s attacks on the Ukrainian people. In the midst of conflict, it is difficult to discern between unfair and necessary punishment. While we grapple with the correct course of action, we must also ask how this impacts the innocent lives affected by war. If we take the offensive stance and punish Russia, we affect innocent civilians who might also oppose the war. If we take the defensive stance and let Russia go, we influence more Ukrainians to flee their homes and take refuge for safety. In either situation, the lives of innocent people are subjected to cruelty and injustice. At the end of the day, the only way to end these conflicts among citizens is to end the conflicts among the governments.