As Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, the grim reality of war takes center stage, with more than two million Ukrainians fleeing the country and hundreds dead, according to the UN.
Russia is already paying the price for its aggression – countries around the world are imposing sanctions and the Russian ruble has fallen further against the dollar, reaching a record low.
A plethora of international sports organizations and governing bodies also responded to the invasion against Russia and its athletes with sanctions of varying severity, and Russian President Vladimir Putin was stripped of several honorary sports titles.
Russian and Belarusian athletes, in particular, were banned from participating in the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing after several athletes and teams from other countries threatened not to participate in the Games, according to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). † ) recommended a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes participating in international competitions.
“The situation is, of course, monstrous. It is a disgrace to the International Paralympic Committee,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters after the decision.
The IOC also announced that it had stripped Putin of the Olympic Order – the Olympic movement’s highest honor.
“The IOC was seen as having a close relationship with Russia,” Michael Payne, a former CIO marketing manager, told CNN.
“The fact that the IOC has now issued a series of sanctions against Russia, which I believe are probably the strictest sanctions the IOC has ever issued… since probably the early 1960s when the IOC banned South Africa for its apartheid regime,” he said. said.
Meanwhile, the world football government FIFA and the European football organization UEFA have suspended all Russian international and club teams from their competitions “until further notice”.
“Vladimir Putin has a passion for sport and uses sport to project the importance of Russia onto the world stage and make the Russian people proud again of their success on the world stage. †
Payne added that the sanctions’ most immediate impact could be to challenge the narrative of the Kremlin conflict, with ordinary Russians wondering what happened to the events they were supposed to stage.
UEFA announced last month that this year’s Champions League final will no longer take place at the Krestovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg, sponsored by the Russian state-owned company Gazprom, and will now be moved to the Stade de France in Paris, which is played on the original date of May. 28.
“There can be no misunderstanding: no amount of control by the Russian media can explain what is happening in the sports world, that they have been suddenly banned,” Payne said.
Russia is treating Ukraine’s invasion of Ukraine very differently from CNN and other Western media outlets. A new law prohibits media operating in Russia from using the words “war”, “attack” or “invasion” to describe Putin’s decision to unleash his troops against Ukraine. Instead, they should use the Kremlin’s Orwellian phrase: “special military operation.”
Russians’ access to social media such as Facebook and Twitter is also severely limited.
Sanctions can make ordinary Russians wonder why they can’t watch their Russian athletes perform? And it’s clear that’s why the Russian people say, ‘What’s going on? ‘ said Payne.
“Will Putin care about returning his Olympic gold or what the rest of the world thinks of him? Probably not.
“Would he care if all the local Russians say, ‘Wait, what’s going on?’ Absolute. ”
Lukas Aubin, an associate researcher at the French Institute of International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) and a specialist in Russia’s geopolitics and sports, told CNN Sport that Putin takes care of his image so that observers are aware of his prowess. and on an international level.
“When Putin came to power in 2000, one of his first decisions was to invite his former judo coach [to the Kremlin]” he said.
The Russian prime minister has also been photographed ice swimming, fishing and riding shirtless.
“Today President Putin uses sports as part of his power. And not just as part of his personality, because he also created a great sports system. He uses oligarchs, politicians, former sportsmen to make a machine.
“It’s a big system, where people… [are] pushed by Putin in the direction they need to create a good image of Russia, in the sports world,” he added.
It worked for the most part, Aubin said.
“It worked because we’re seeing the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Four years later we are going to the World Cup. It is really very difficult to say how many international sporting events Russia [has] hosted in the last 10 years – that’s a lot. In the beginning it was a huge piece of soft power,” adds Aubin.
Vera Tolz, a professor of Russian studies at the University of Manchester, told CNN Sport that Putin has used Russian nationalism “in an instrumental and very systematic way” as a way to legitimize his regime since he came to power.
“Nationalism — and the kind of national unification with the promotion of certain versions of history, organization, instituting new national holidays and, of course, sports — was absolutely key to his legitimization strategy,” she explained, adding that such tactics predate from the Soviet period, when sport “was used very extensively as a means of keeping people loyal to the regime”.
“Even the fact that the Kremlin in Russia went so far as to use doping to win more medals shows how competing and winning, winning was key to Putin’s popular mobilization strategy,” Tolz added. †
In 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) unanimously decided to ban Russia from major international sports competitions – including the Olympics and the World Cup – for four years for doping violations.
The ban was halved by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) later in 2020.
WADA’s penalty relates to inconsistencies in data recovered by WADA in January 2019 at its Moscow lab in the midst of the 2016 McLaren report, which uncovered a comprehensive and sophisticated state-sponsored sports doping ring. .
“Anytime you let Russia participate in an international sporting event, you basically agree to swim with man-eating sharks. They’ll cheat on your athletes, they won’t feel bad about it, they’ll lie about it, if caught, they’ll blame you for reporting it,” Jim Walden, Grigory Rodchenkov’s US attorney, who contributed to expose Russia’s first cover-up, CNN told CNN.
Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, Putin expressed frustration at the “politicization of sport” and that “the rights and interests of our athletes must be protected from arbitrariness”.
The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) was initially found to be non-compliant following the publication of the McLaren report in 2016.
Commissioned by WADA, the report revealed that the Russian state had colluded with athletes and sports officials to launch a doping program unprecedented in its scope and ambition.
“Putin uses his control over sports a lot to try to play the world and win as much as possible, and also manages the content for the Russian people so that he can achieve maximum popularity, which translates into maximum strength to do what he wants internationally. want to. – essentially pitting Russia against the rest of the world, at least the rest of the western world,” Walden added.
Fast forward to 2022 and another doping scandal – surrounding Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva – has overshadowed the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Valieva, 15, a Games star who topped the figure skating team, was allowed to compete despite testing positive for the banned heart drug trimetazidine, commonly used to treat people with angina. The failed test took place before the Winter Olympics but was only revealed during the Games and it remains unclear whether the controversy over the doping test will lead to the medal being revoked.
“Not only is Russia myopic focused on winning at all costs, but cost-wise it isn’t banned, is it? So murder, bribery, drug dealing, any crime that gives them an advantage. They believe that not only will they do it, but other people are weak at following the rules,” Walden said.
“So they marry crime with obstruction and associate it with sport. And that’s how they always won. And so the Russian government used it to bolster its own popularity so that it would have more leeway to indulge in unrest abroad,” he added.
Olympic great Edwin Moses, who opposed the US boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, went so far as to call for a ban on Russia from the 2024 Olympics.
“The boycott of 1980 was political. It’s just awful,” Moses, president of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, said in a Laureus press release last week.
“It’s not much to do with politics, it has to do with humanity, war, fighting, killing children and innocent people, missiles and missiles, tanks…and that’s live on TV, so everyone knows about this.
“I was in favor of banning the Russians because of what happened in Sochi in 2014, because they really compromised the integrity of the Olympics through doping. I was on the executive committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency and found the sanctions too light.
“What they are doing to the whole world in Ukraine now, in my opinion, is exactly what they have done to the sport. Russia should be banned in Paris [2024 Olympic Games]†
A few years ago, Moïse says he met Putin.
“Once I sat next to him with [a] table. Two chairs to my left, and the translator sat in between. And I talked to him all night. I know how he talked about sport, like it was the holy grail, and how important sport was, and how good it was where the best in all the land, whatever your philosophy, can compete together, and who wins wins. .. I realize now that that was just propaganda.