Russia-Ukraine War: Sport Is a tool in the Hands of Politicians

Politicising sports minimises the cultural performance of professional sports. Banning countries from sporting events for political reasons is a violation of human rights. Now we witness that Russia has been suspended from the World Cup and Russian clubs have been banned from the Europa League. These have raised concerns about the cultural aspect of sporting events. According to Sports Promedia, Russian exclusion from international sports must be total and long-lasting. Thus sport becomes a tool in the hands of politicians.

Suspension of Russian Sports

The fact that sport is a tool in the hands of politicians is clear from boycotts imposed on Russia.  As mentioned in the Indian Express, there are sanctions against Russia for invading Ukraine. Sports institutions have suspended Russia from international football. The decision came from FIFA and UEFA. They suspended Russia’s national teams and clubs “until further notice.” UEFA also ended its partnership with Russian energy giant, Gazprom.

In the same vein, The Guardian reported that FIFA and UEFA have decided to suspend Russian teams from international football competitions. Thus, Russia will not be able to face Poland in the World Cup play-off semi-final matches. Moreover, its women’s team will be barred from this summer’s European Championship in England. In addition, its remaining club in the European competitions, FC Spartak Moscow, will no longer compete in the Europa League. FIFA and UEFA have decided that all Russian teams will be suspended from participation in competitions until further notice.

According to Euronews, FIFA and UEFA have banned Russia from the 2022 World Cup and other football competitions. Sports bodies and clubs across Europe have already moved against Russia amid the war in Ukraine. UEFA has also broken its deal with the Russian gas company. They moved the 2022 UEFA Champions League final from St Petersburg to Paris.  Finland and Switzerland both want the Russian and Belarusian hockey teams banned from the men’s world championships in May. World Rugby also suspended Belarus and Russia from international rugby “until further notice”.

Sport as Human Rights

According to the Council of Europe, Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympics Committee and its second president, believed that “sports events are important tools for the promotion of human rights”. Pierre de Coubertin is the father of the modern Olympic Games. He believed that sports should have the explicit function of encouraging active peace and international understanding in a spirit of mutual respect. The IOC states in its Olympic Charter that the “practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit.”

Is Sport Separate from Politics?

For years, the world’s sporting bodies have said that sport can and should be kept separate from politics. Many of the world’s athletes have said the same (The Guardian). FIFA’s explicit rules on political statements in matches and competitions focus on the display of messages on clothing. The FIFA regulations state that: “The basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images. Organisers must sanction the team of a player whose basic equipment has political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images” (LawInSport). The question to ask is: Why do they take the right from Russia, Russian sports teams and Russian athletes to participate in sporting events!? Is this not against the humanistic and cultural function of sport? Does it show that sport is a tool in the hands of politicians?

Shameless Double Standards

It is worth noting that politics never really left the stadiums. When federations try to separate sport from politics, it is usually an obvious and shameless case of double standards.

An example of political victims in sporting events is the Scottish football club, Celtic. Last week, their ultra-loyal fan club, The Green Brigade, waved Palestinian flags en masse during their team’s Champions League qualifier 5-2 win against Israel. In so doing, they flouted the UEFA ban on the flag being a “political symbol”. UEFA forbids Celtic FC fans from flying Palestinian flags during a game against an Israeli club. However, UEFA does not impose a similar ban on waving the Israeli flag.

The world football’s governing body ignored Ghanaian footballer John Paintsil waving the Israeli flag in the 2006 World Cup. He waved the Israeli flag when his national team scored its second goal against the Czech Republic. The flag was nothing if not political during this demonstration (Stepfeed). Moreover, FIFA did not exclude the US from the 2002 World Cup for invading Afghanistan in 2001. Furthermore, the US invaded Iraq in 2003. However, they did not ban the US, and the US attended the Athens Olympics a few months later. Moreover, International sports institutions did not bar Saudi Arabia from any sporting events for invading Yemen. This is called the shameless double standards of sports institutions. This shows that sport is a tool in the hands of politicians.

Concluding Remarks

Is sport separate from politics? This time, the Russia-Ukraine war shows how international sports institutions deal with the claim of “separating sport from politics.”  Despite claims about the separation of sport from politics, there is evidence that politics and political decisions influence sporting events. International institutions and sports federations worldwide are chanting the slogan of separating sports from politics. They have included it in their laws and are trying to show their support for such thinking. However, in practice, they behave completely contrary to this slogan. With the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, political boundaries changed. Banning Russia from sporting events shows that sport is a tool in the hands of politicians.

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