Sarah O'Dwyer: It’s hard to keep politics out of sport

Sarah O'Dwyer: It’s hard to keep politics out of sport

Paris 2024 signage at Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. The IOC have said they will allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in Paris.

DO WE need to separate politics from sport? A lot commentators I have seen have said yes. I disagree. Can we separate politics from sport? Again, some say yes, but I cannot see how that’s possible.

I wrote quite extensively about the Fifa World Cup being held in Qatar last year. I detailed the alleged deaths of immigrant workers who were working on the stadia and infrastructure for the tournament. I also spoke about the treatment of LGBTQ+ people there. I wasn’t the only one; many outlets across the world questioned the potential legitimising of those views by allowing the country to host. Hosting the tournament in Qatar broadcast them to the world.

It’s impossible to separate politics and sport, as they so often go hand in hand. We saw a clear example of that when it came to the UK’s sanctioning of Russian oligarch’s last year following the invasion in Ukraine.

Then-Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich was one of seven sanctioned in the UK. Chelsea were allowed to keep playing matches, but sanctions meant no more tickets for upcoming games could be sold, and a similar situation arose with merchandise.

The club was subsequently sold to for £4.25billion.

In another sport, Formula 1, then-driver for Haas, Nikita Mazepin, was also kicked off the team following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. His father, Dmitry Mazepin, was a part-owner of the teams title sponsor, Uralkali. Haas also terminated its partnership with Uralkali.

Elsewhere in Formula 1, prior to races drivers take part in a public show against racism and discrimination. Many take the knee while all wear t-shirts with ‘End Racism’ on them.

Across the board, whether people agree with it or not, politics has become linked with sport.

Which is why the latest controversy has come as somewhat of a shock.

Last week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that Russian and Belarussian athletes can compete in Paris 2024.

The Olympic Council of Asia agreed to allow athletes from both countries compete in events under its jurisdiction in the run-up to Paris 2024.

When the invasion of Ukraine by Russia happened last February, the IOC issued a recommendation that athletes from both countries should be banned from international sports competition. However, they have now made a u-turn on that stance.

It was agreed by the IOC executive board last week that “no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport” and that they could instead compete as “neutral athletes”. They can do so on the basis that the athlete hadn’t actively supported the war in Ukraine, and that they fully respected the Olympic Charter.

The IOC did agree that no international events would be held in those countries, nor would state or government officials be invited to any meetings or events.

A joint-statement from Ukrainian Athletes and Global Athlete was critical of the IOC’s decision.

They said that the “decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in qualifiers to attend the 2024 Paris Olympic Games sends a message to the world that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) endorses Russia’s brutal war and invasion of Ukraine.

“The return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international competition, especially the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, will see the Russian state use athletes once more to bolster the war effort and distract from the atrocities in Ukraine on one of the biggest multi-sport stages in the world.

“The suspension of both Russian and Belarusian athletes and their sporting officials must be fully reinstated until Russia withdraws completely from Ukraine.

“We acknowledge that reinstating the ban will pain many Russian and Belarusian athletes and will deny them an opportunity to pursue their careers on the world stage. We recognise that athletes are not the powerbrokers who are responsible for this war.

“Our call today is a hard stance with a real human cost. However, the cost on Russian and Belarusian athletes pales in comparison to the atrocities experienced by every single Ukrainian.” The Ukrainian sports minister Vadym Guttsait has since said that athletes from Ukraine could boycott the games if Russian and Belarussian athletes are permitted to compete.

“For the whole Ukrainian sports community, this is a question of principle,” Guttsait wrote on his Facebook page.

And principle is the reason sport and politics can’t ever really be separate.

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