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Russian athletes are caught in an unavoidable political crossfire

The underlying question is whether Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in world sports events both in the short and long term

Daniil Medvedev

Daniil Medvedev (Source: AP)


C.C. Chengappa

Updated: 23 March 2022 12:14 PM GMT

One of the major issues which has arisen from the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict is the status of Russian citizens themselves. Many have fled the country already out of fear for their well being and reportedly being dissatisfied with what Putin has done. There are citizens who continue to condemn Putin on a public platform but are reportedly being hauled up and publicly reprimanded for their actions 'against the state'. One set of individuals who are stuck in between are athletes who train and reside in Russia. This crossroad is one of the biggest they will face and is literally a matter of making or breaking their career.

What must Russian athletes do to compete in world events?

In a UK Parliament committee meeting, the sports minister Nigel Huddleston was quoted saying "Absolutely nobody flying the flag for Russia should be allowed or enabled. We need some potential assurance that they are not supporters of Putin and we are considering what requirements we may need to try and get some assurances along those lines." While the basic intention behind this is to implement some rules ahead of Wimbledon this year, England also aims to make this a precedent for other countries to follow. The belief is that pressure extended from all sides will be an internal deterrent for the Russian government which is already reeling from a suffering economy.

Essentially Russian athletes must publicly denounce or disassociate themselves from Putin and his actions in order to be seen as eligible to compete in international sports events. The only country that is taking this strictly at the moment is England but such a political action has the potential to expand into other countries.

Problems that have arisen

The WTA however has come out strongly and stated that it downs not wish for athletes to be banned in case they refuse to denounce Putin or Russia's actions. Steve Simon was quoted saying " I can tell you that we have never banned athletes from participating on our tour as the result of political positions their leadership may take. I feel very strongly that these individual athletes should not be the ones that are being penalized by the decisions of authoritarian leadership that are obviously doing terrible, reprehensible things."

This issue will have to be dealt with strictly in the coming weeks in order to give clarity to the athletes caught in the crossfire. Coordination between international sports bodies and regional governments will have to be sought in order to come to a major consensus that is feasible and acceptable by all parties. There are many sides to this debate and the essence of it all should be to preserve the integrity of sports.

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