Russian athletes won’t wash away the stain of this war with Fa soap. They are and will be marked by it as long as the war continues. Irrespective of whether they are for or against.
Before the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine the International Olympic Committee is facing a research problem. It will consider the possibility of Russian and Belarusian athletes taking part in the Paris Olympics. Certainly, inspired by the idea of world peace, for by what else?
Ukraine’s reaction was immediate. It points in the opposite direction to that of the IOC. Presidential advisor, Mykhaylo Podolak called the Committee “an organization promoting inhumane Russian propaganda” and the possible Games with Russian participation – “a platform to promote genocide”.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised to make effort at “cleansing the international Olympic structures of hypocrisy. He started off by inviting Thomas Bach to Bakhmut. Certainly so that he look at and think. I have my doubts whether the president’s plan succeeds as Mr. Thomas has already thought up what’s his.
Ukrainian athletes are also actively protesting. Zhan Beleniuk, gold medalist from Tokyo in Greco-Roman wrestling, MP called for a debate in the Verkhovna Rada. A boycott of the Olympics along with a broad coalition of countries was discussed.
With stars on epaulettes
The IOC being most outraged by the affair, it issued a respective and very predictable statement. It resolutely renounced “defamatory” criticism suggesting that it couldn’t “serve and constructive discussion”.
Alas, it didn’t expand on this thread, which is a shame for at present the only platform of any constructive is the war in Ukraine, massacres of civilians, rape, looting, bombing and an pervasive trauma of death. That’s the basis of a discussion set up by the Russians.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister quoted meaningful Olympic statistics. Out of 71 medal won in Tokyo by the Russians, 45 were gained by members of the Central Sport Club of the Army. Some – with stars on their epaulettes.
The Russian army, not only Gazprom massively subsidizes the local sport. At the Olympics the statistics would be similar, but the circumstance – completely different. Athletes form an country aggressor, under a white flag symbolizing peace and fraternity of nations, financed from the budget of an army that is committing war crimes. What the hell is that?
How would the world read that out? The white flag symbolizes neutrality, which in this case would be like spitting in the face of the world. Because who would certify that neutrality? Commando of the apostles of death, as Ukrainians talk about potential Olympians from Russia?
Russian athletes won’t wash away the stain of this war with Fa soap. They are and will be marked by it as long as the war continues. Irrespective of whether they are for or against. And Regardless of the research inclinations of the IOC. On Thomas Bach’s inflated populism, officially: an apostle of world peace…
Zappy Ms. Mayor
The world is slightly confused though not shaken yet. Baltic states and Poland are protesting openly. They are seriously considering its boycott of the event if the Russians and Belarusians show up. There is no decision because the research is under way.
The IOC has only begun to sound out the market with the use of a red herring. They want to get a first idea of how strong the opposition will be. Where it is strong and where it is weak. Because they already know where there is (and probably will) be none.
Paris is delighted. The city’s mayor Anne Hidalgo supported the Olympic HQ project. However a week later she turned against it. Ms. Mayor is visibly zappy. She cannot cope with the situation as she found herself under pressure.
It seems that she supported it not because she believed in “the gesture of goodwill” and the magical significance of the neutral flag. Probably because she was gripped by an uncontrollable fear at the very thought of boycotting the event. At the thought of the losses that might result from such a boycott.
All Olympic Games are hosted by cities. Sometimes with more, but usually with less, support from the national budget. Rome recently paid off its debts from the 1960 Games. For Paris, it is already an uphill task that is only getting harder.
Seine-Saint-Denis will be the centre of the Olympics. The district has the highest rate of poverty and crime in the country. President Emmanuel Macron expressed his concern that the city “won’t get fair payback” for the expenses made on Olympic investment.
Well, it won’t since the government has cut subsidies to sports facilities of local importance. The president expressively promised “a great plan for local clubs” but talk is cheap. In contrast to what is built and for what one has to pay.
President Zelenskyy appealed to President Macron for an IOC ban on the Russians. The outcome of this appeal is hard to predict as Macron is attached to at least two popular slogans of the Paris Olympics.
The first one says “Olympics wide open”, and, at that, in every possible aspect. The other, which the French president has made public many times: “The Games must be self-financing”. In other words the first contradicts the exclusion of anyone. The latter leads to a measurable profit.
In the case of sporting events, particularly of Olympic Games, the profit is generated by attractive rivalry. It lures sponsors, TV corporations and huge audiences. Russian athletes win medals so they help increase the appeal of the shows. And a boycott would mean a total loss.
All sports activists in the world speak fluent the language of finance. And the leaders of international federations, such as IOC, FIFA, UEFA or ITF even use it in a preferential way. To put it outright and bluntly – that’s the only language they understand.
Games like a respirator
Mr. Bach is the only one who reacts allergically to the word “boycott”. But the representatives of almost every Olympic discipline are also getting nervous. Except for football and tennis because in these branches one earns their money elsewhere and acquires fame in other arenas. Cycling too, in that matter.
But for many sportsmen the Olympics are like oxygen, for others like a respirator because they give a chance to survive. A chance for some sponsors or state financing. Such disciplines hovered on the brink of death after postponing the Olympics in Tokyo.
IOC researchers have caused a wave of outrage though it’s not a tsunami yet. There are rumors circulating rather than news. Apparently the British are considering this solution, perhaps the Americans too. Reportedly 40 countries all together. However a coalition of protest is yet to bet put together.
Besides, solidarity is needed, which may be problematic. There is no such thing after sanctions were imposed as a consequence of the invasion of Ukraine. The world of tennis has ignored sanctions against Russia, as did the world of boxing. Many federations are seeking opportunities to by-pass the sanctions. With some shyness, but not too much…
Russian athletes have their own ideas. They are submitting applications for citizenship to the authorities of Kazakh authorities and they do it en masse. The letter-writing activity has increased incredibly since the outbreak of the war. Kazakhstan accepts only some and only under certain conditions.
First of all they have to be of some use under the new address: to go in for a principal discipline, which Kazakhstan wants to develop. Secondly, they have to be champions in their “lines of work”, prove a career that is rich in international successes.
However, there is a considerable inconvenience in those transfers, and of moral character, too. Most of the Russian aspiring for passports come from army or police units. Many of them are ranked officers or non-commissioned officers of the Rosgwardia. It was also the case of the Belarusians.
The exodus of Belarusian athletes to Kazakhstan began in 2020. Among them there were also formal officers of the Belarusian KGB. But they were simply fleeing Lukashenka’s dictatorship. They were treated as political refugees.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine changes the optics of looking at sport and calls for a redefinition many things. Among other the misleading Olympic ideology. Of course the IOC doesn’t see this need. Just the opposite: it continues to falsify reality.
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– Marek Jóźwik
– Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki