Moscow butted heads with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) long before the invasion of Ukraine. Back in 2016, the infamous McLaren Report
was released, alleging systematic doping violations by Russian Olympic athletes and the involvement of the state. In the end, Russia was banned from competing in the Olympic Games as a national team – instead, Russian athletes competed under a neutral flag.
Despite the high-profile scandal, this was hardly a serious punishment. In fact, the flag and anthem at the awards ceremony is the only thing that Russia lost out on. Athletes racked up medals (for example, at the Winter Games in Beijing, Russians won 32 medals, second only to Norway), while the IOC and the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) have built up much experience of working through restrictions.
Perhaps it was that experience that helped sports officials on both sides to calmly agree on new rules for Russia’s participation in the next Games. According to the March 28 IOC decision
, Russian and Belarusian athletes can compete with the following restrictions:
- without flag and anthem;
- only in individual competitions;
- only athletes who did not oppose the peaceful mission of the IOC and did not actively support the war;
- only athletes who are not associated with the Russian armed forces and other security agencies.
The last restriction may prove the thorniest, as Russian sport clubs have been attached to certain ministries and government departments since Soviet times. CSKA (Central Sport Club of the Army) and Dynamo (related to the internal affairs agencies) have maintained these ties, and many Russian athletes represent these clubs. Among them are three-time Olympic champion skier Alexander Bolshunov and one of the best track and field athletes in the world Maria Lasitskene.
Still, it is important to understand that the Olympics are only the top of the iceberg for many sports – to reach the Games, you must first go through world and continental competitions, where Russians and Belarusians are now also excluded. Technically, the IOC decision allows them to take part in European competitions, though they are not always welcome there, even if the indicated restrictions are met. Most likely, most international competitions for Russians will also be held in Asia, which the IOC approved
back in January.
There is another, more radical option. Following the recent visit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Moscow, Putin announced the prospect of developing a sports association
within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It is not yet clear what this would mean in practice; however, given that it is being proffered as an alternative to the Olympic Movement, a new Goodwill Games (the alternative to the Olympic Games, started in reaction to the boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, held from 1986 through 2001) seems entirely possible.Hockey
Whereas Russia has always been an important, but still just another, team in European soccer and the Olympic Games, international ice hockey has lost one of its elites by banning the Russian national team. Both the World Championship and the Olympics are essentially a closed, elite tournament, with a maximum of eight teams having hopes of winning and half of all titles won by Canada and Russia/USSR. Obviously, the exclusion of such an elite team as Russia has affected the commercial prospects of the game.
Already in January, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) made a rather dovish comment
about moving the World Junior Championship from Novosibirsk and Omsk to Canada: “The decision will always be on safety, not politics.” In March, sources reported the imminent return
of the Russian team to the World Championship – a final vote on the matter will be held at the IIHF congress in May, where the majority of participants plan to vote “yes.”