Should Russian Athletes Be Banned From Competition?

Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, the world’s top ranked male tennis player, is the #1 seed at the big Indian Wells tournament that ends this weekend.

Should he still play while his country is occupying Ukraine?

Russian Alex Ovechkin He is one of the most talented hockey players the world has ever seen. And by the way, he is a longtime supporter of President Vladimir V. Putin. Should Ovechkin still score for the NHL’s Washington Capitals?

Should any Russian citizen be allowed on the sports world scene right now?

With the aim of convicting sports-loving Putin and further isolating his country, the sports world reacted with extraordinary speed when war broke out in Ukraine. We saw Russia banned from World Cup qualifiers was cut from international play in football and basketball teams. Tennis Moscow cancels tournamentand Formula 1 ties are over with the Russian Grand Prix.

Even the normally ad hoc International Olympic Committee banned athletes from Russia and Belarus, who supported the occupation, from sporting events, and After some hesitation, the Paralympics did just that.

But the bans are not over.

Many Russian athletes continue to improve before us. Individual footballers can still participate in European football leagues. Ovechkin leads a strong Russian contingent in professional hockey, and the country’s tennis players continue to make a good living on professional tours, although they can’t participate in tournaments. with any national identity.

Should these players’ days as rivals outside of Russia be numbered – at least until the war is over and Ukrainian dominance is restored?

Bruce Kidd thinks so. Kidd represented Canada as a distance runner at the 1964 Summer Olympics and is a longtime human rights leader in the sport.

During the South African apartheid era, he took responsibility for Canadian restrictions on South African athletes that began to come into effect in the 1970s.

When I spoke to him last week, Kidd was adamant: Using hockey as an example that could spread globally, he believes Russian nationals in the NHL should be banned once the current season ends in June, with immigration visas suspended with the door open for asylum. .

Such a move, of course, does not stop the war. But similar to the effort it promoted during the apartheid era, ending Russia’s participation in sports would bolster economic penalties, deprive Putin of the chance to enjoy the athletic achievements of Russian players, and send a message of support to Ukraine.

“Argument #1 is, ‘Mr. “The sports community is so angry that you are violating human rights repeatedly and violating the fundamental values ​​of sport and fair play, we say enough is enough,” said Putin. Ukrainian Embassy in Canada. “We show our disgust to you and your people.”

Kidd, now ombudsman at the University of Toronto, knows that malicious people will tell him that such an action goes against the principles of a free society. In normal times, he would agree. Not now.

All Russian athletes, “like it or not,” are highly visible representatives of the nation they come from.

I agree with Kidd. But I am also cautious. Banning individual athletes can add to the feeling of unfounded grievance shared by Putin and many in Russia. It can also fuel dangerous xenophobia against ordinary people of Russian origin.

The eerie silence of most Russian athletes, their refusal to say anything critical afterwards. blood doping scandals and now the bombings and killings in Ukraine? There is no doubt that some remain silent because they support Putin and want to stay out of the discussion.

Some remain silent because there is a well-founded fear for their own and their families’ safety in Russia.

If we ban all sports stars from the aggressor nation in this war, what about those who risked speaking out against it?

Consider Calgary Flames defender Nikita Zadorov as one of the few current Russian hockey players to oppose Putin’s aggression. She posted a photo on her Instagram that reads “NO WAR” and “Do not do that!”

Dan Milstein, an agent who represents many Russian hockey players in the NHL, said Zadorov was made public even though he knew he would likely never play for the Russian national team again and that his family might be in danger.

Milstein is Ukrainian. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, he immigrated to the United States. Yet it also supports its client, Russian nationals, a roster of professional players and youth playing in the talent-rich Canadian Hockey League, which canceled its annual series against Russia this month in response to the war.

When I spoke to Milstein recently, I could hear fear and anger in his voice.

“I feel sick to my hometown, the people there, the children,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m deeply sorry for the way some people in the world are treating innocent hockey players, not just professionals but also young people. It’s a chance, a dream, they’ve done nothing but strip their tails for years to play in the best league in the world. And now they’re born in Russia. They are deprived of this opportunity.”

“Following them,” he added, “is going after the wrong men.”

There are no winners here. In a situation as dire as the world has faced for decades, there are no easy answers.

Russian athletes, like all of us, are individuals full of dreams, fear and courage.

But they are also symbols – powerful representatives of a nation that take part as aggressors in a hideous war. Why do we let anyone play?

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