How the Sports World Has Responded to the Russo-Ukrainian War
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Devastating news struck the globe on February 24, 2022 as Russia began its invasion of Ukraine under the pretense of a “special military operation.” As Russia continues to close down on Ukraine, many nations around the world have issued economic sanctions against Russia and cut diplomatic ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Though the political and economic importance of the conflict overshadows many of its other aspects, there have been notable repercussions in the sports world as well. Here are some of the most prominent consequences of the Russo-Ukrainian War in sports.
Russia has had a global presence in the soccer scene since the Soviet Union’s induction as a member of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in 1946. The country recently hosted the 2018 World Cup, with their national team reaching the quarterfinals of the tournament. However, in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, FIFA has made the decision to suspend Russia from international competition. Fans were surprised at this decision, as there have been circumstances in which FIFA did not enforce punishment toward the national teams for the actions of the nation’s government.
So far, the public has largely supported the decision. The Polish FA has announced that they refuse to play in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Russia. However, some fans believe that FIFA should draw a line between how they deal with the country and how they deal with the athletes. Currently, players in the Ukrainian Premier League are unable to transfer to another club because it is the middle of the season. “We have to give an opportunity to players from Ukraine and foreign players from Russia to continue their careers,” a spokesperson representing the Polish FA said. “FIFA needs to make some amendments to the regulations to help them.” As a result, FIFA held a meeting with the European Club Association regarding the matter and later finalized their decision to allow players and coaches to temporarily suspend their contracts with Russian and Ukrainian clubs and sign for new teams.
Roman Abramovich has been the owner of Chelsea Football Club since 2003. The Russian oligarch began massive developments to the club, helping to bring in top-notch players from across the globe. As such, his current ownership has conflicted with his close personal relationship to Putin. Abramovich transferred the proprietary rights of the club over to the Chelsea Charitable Foundation on February 26, possibly to distance Chelsea from the sanctions levied against him by the British government. A few days later, he released an official statement declaring that he was selling Chelsea F.C., detailing his decision to act in the best interests of the club.
However, the UK announced its decision to freeze the assets of Abramovich, which includes Chelsea, on March 9. As such, the proposed sale of Chelsea has been put on hold, as both executive members of the club and Abramovich work to figure out a solution. Following the reporting of these issues, Chelsea’s sponsor Three suspended its sponsorship of the club, and Abramovich was issued a travel ban in the UK. Chelsea made yet another statement on the matter: “We will also be seeking guidance from the UK Government on the impact of these measures on the Chelsea Foundation and its important work in our communities.”
Adhering to their mission of using sports as a vehicle to foster peaceful relations between nations, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued a resolution on February 28 prohibiting the participation of athletes under the name of Russia or Belarus and urging other sports bodies to exclude the country’s athletes and officials from international events. Though the IOC was hesitant to punish athletes for the decisions of their country’s government, they decided that the impact of the war on Ukrainian athletes and other global sporting affairs outweighs the damage done to Russian athletes. This action was not a complete blanket ban by the IOC. Athletes from Russia and Belarus are allowed to participate in sporting events as long as they identify as neutral competitors with no national flag, anthem, or symbols. The committee admires and supports calls for peace by Russian athletes and remains in full solidarity with the Ukrainian people. “Give peace a chance,” the IOC President said.
The Fédération Internationale de Basketball Amateur (FIBA) announced their decision on March 1 to suspend all Russian teams, players, and officials from international basketball competitions until further notice, in response to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. In their official statement, they expressed their concerns with the events in Ukraine and stated, “FIBA strongly condemns violence and hopes peace will urgently prevail.” Their verdict comes as a huge detriment to the Russian men’s national team, who were the leaders of Group H of the European qualifying region prior to their disqualification. FIBA stands alongside FIFA and the IOC, as all three organizations have moved to completely eliminate Russian participation in their sporting events. Where the situation goes from here is yet to be determined, but the actions taken by FIFA, FIBA, and the IOC are exemplary of the hard line stance most sporting bodies will likely take as they attempt to force a stop to the acts of war being witnessed in Ukraine.
Compared to other sports organizations such as FIFA and FIBA, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) initially had a more hesitant response to the conflict, even after a recommendation from the IOC that there should be no participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials under their flags. However, Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina declared on Twitter on February 28 that she would refuse to play her first-round match in the Monterrey Open, or matches against Russian and Belarusian athletes, until tennis organizations followed the IOC’s recommendation. The ATP made a statement on March 1 allowing athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete without the names or flags of their respective countries.
Throughout their entire lives, Ukrainian world champions Oleksandr Usyk and Vasyl Lomachenko have laced up 8 oz. gloves and flaunted flashy boxing trunks as they prepared for combat in the ring. Now, they handle military-grade weapons and suit up in army uniforms to fight on treacherous battle grounds. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Usyk and Lomachenko, along with legendary heavyweight champions Vitali Klitschko and Wladimir Klitschko, have taken up arms and joined their fellow countrymen in battle. When Usyk, who was initially scheduled to defend his heavyweight title against Britain’s Anthony Joshua (and earn a multi-million dollar paycheck while doing so), was asked why he signed up for the war, he responded, “It is my duty to fight, to defend my home, my family.”
Lomachenko, three-weight world champion and long-time friend of Usyk, expressed similar sentiments, stressing his desire for peace and understandably putting aside boxing for the more important cause. “I really don’t know when I’m going to be stepping back in the ring. My country and my honor are more important to me than a championship belt,” Usyk said in an interview with CNN. The decision made by Usyk, Lomachenko, the Klitschko brothers, and many other Ukrainian boxers to desert their careers and join the efforts to defend their home country are truly commendable. They are champions of their country, willing to put their lives on the line and stand up for their people.
In times of discord and dissension, it is critical for members of the sports community to stand together and express solidarity with Ukraine. Many sporting entities, athletes, and fans have already used their platforms to speak out against the actions of Putin, yet more should be done on behalf of the sports world. While sports should be the last thing on everyone’s minds, by being united against the actions of Russia, the global sports community can bring greater attention to the issue and stand in unanimity for the people of Ukraine.