The sports world is cutting ties with Russia
Olympics, soccer, hockey move to ban Russians from big events
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The sports world is cutting ties with Russia
As opposing countries isolate Russia from international trade and finance as their primary weapon in trying to stop the invasion of Ukraine, the sports world is doing its own version of this move. Here are the latest developments in three arenas:
The International Olympic Committee today asked the sports governing bodies in its sphere of influence to ban all athletes from Russia and key ally Belarus from their competitions. This is a step further than the IOC was willing to go in response to the discovery of Russia's massive, state-sponsored doping program a few years ago. That resulted in the country's name, flag and anthem being banned from the Olympics, but Russian athletes were still allowed to compete under a banner (such as Russian Olympic Committee) that left no doubt as to where they were from.
The IOC's stated reason for using a lighter touch there was that it didn't want to punish athletes who weren't involved in the wrongdoing. The same concern was mentioned in today's announcement, but the IOC went on to say that the inability of many Ukrainian athletes to compete right now because of the ongoing attack on their country created "a dilemma which cannot be solved," and led the IOC to decide "with a heavy heart" to recommend that all Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials be banned from international competitions.
For events where it might be too late to ban athletes, the IOC is asking organizers to make sure that no one competes in the name of Russia or Belarus. Rather, anyone from those countries should participate only as "neutral" athletes or teams, with no "national symbols, colours, flags or anthems" displayed. In "very extreme circumstances" where even those measures are too difficult to enact on short notice, the IOC said it will leave it up to the organization in charge of the event to come up with its own solution.
That last part most notably applies to the Paralympic Winter Games, which open Friday in Beijing and are organized by the International Paralympic Committee. Similar to what we just saw in the Winter Olympics, Russian athletes are slated to compete under the flag of the Russian Paralympic Committee as part of the sanctions for the country's doping scandal. But Ukrainian athletes are now calling for Russian and Belarusian athletes to be banned from the Games, and an open letter sent on their behalf to the IOC and the IPC has drawn hundreds of signatures in support, including from former Canadian women's national hockey team player and IOC member Hayley Wickenheiser. At our publish time, the IPC was still allowing Russians and Belarusians to compete in the upcoming Games.
The Canadian Olympic Committee and the COC Athletes' Commission joined in the call for a Russia/Belarus ban in their corner of the sports world, saying in a joint statement today that they "strongly urge all Canadian national sport organizations and organizations hosting international sporting events in Canada to immediately rescind invitations and bar the participation of athletes and officials from Russia and Belarus."
Meanwhile, the World Curling Federation moved today to bar Russia from next month's women's world championship in Prince George, B.C. The WCF made a new rule allowing for the removal of a team if it "would damage the event or put the safety of the participants or the good order of the event at risk." Member associations have three days to register an objection to the rule change before it goes through. Curling Canada released a statement today saying it "strongly endorses" the WCF's move. Russia has qualified for one of the 13 spots in the tournament, but it has not named the athletes it would send. Alina Kovaleva skipped the Russian women's team at the Beijing Olympics last month and went 1-8.
FIFA and UEFA (the sport's world and European governing bodies, respectively) announced today that they've suspended Russia's national teams and clubs from their competitions "until further notice." This makes it likely that Russia will not play in this year's men's World Cup and Women's Euro 2022 tournaments.
The move comes after Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic forced the hands of the lords of soccer by saying over the weekend that they were refusing to play Russia in the final round of Europe's World Cup qualifying tournament. Those four teams make up a mini-bracket from which one team will qualify. Poland is scheduled to play Russia on March 24, with the winner facing Sweden or the Czech Republic five days later for a ticket to the World Cup in Qatar at the end of the year.
The Polish, Swedish and Czech boycotts came after FIFA announced an initial response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine that was straight out of the old IOC playbook. Rather than kick Russia out of World Cup qualifying, FIFA merely ordered the country to play without its flag and anthem and to call itself by the name of its federation — the Football Union of Russia. In addition, FIFA ruled that Russia's home matches must be moved to neutral venues without fans.
These half measures also didn't cut it for the United States, England and Canada, who joined the other countries in refusing to play Russia. Canada Soccer said in a statement today that its "member associations and clubs will not compete at any level against Russia until sovereignty and territorial integrity are restored" in Ukraine.
The International Ice Hockey Federation today booted all Russian and Belarusian national teams and clubs from its competitions "until further notice." This could mean both countries lose their spots in the men's world championship in May in Finland, and Russia gets removed from the women's worlds in Denmark starting in late August (Belarus doesn't have a team in that event). It could also take Russia out of the rescheduled world junior championship, which is expected to happen in August in Alberta after being abandoned just after Christmas due to COVID-19 issues. Even the normally reticent Wayne Gretzky called for Russia to be banned from the world juniors over the weekend on U.S. national TV.
The IIHF also stripped Russia of hosting the world junior championship coming up in December/January. It didn't say anything about the 2023 men's world championship in Saint Petersburg.
Shortly after the IIHF's announcement, the NHL said it is "suspending our relationships with our business partners in Russia" and "pausing" its Russian-language social media accounts and websites. The league also said it won't consider Russia as a host for "any future competitions involving the NHL."
WATCH | Ukrainian athletes call for Russian, Belarusian Paralympic ban:
A shortened baseball season appears inevitable now. Today is the deadline set by Major League Baseball for reaching a new labour deal that will allow Opening Day to happen as scheduled on March 31. With the players and the owners still far apart in their negotiations and seemingly digging their heels in, it would take a miracle to end the lockout by the end of the day. MLB can't just unilaterally shorten the season (the number of games has to be collectively bargained) but the league has vowed that, after today, it will start negotiating a season of less than the full 162 games. This could take money out of the players' pockets (their paycheques come only during the regular season), but the owners don't seem to care because the playoffs are where they make a big chunk of their dough. Knowing this, the players have said a shortened regular season will make them less likely to accept the expanded post-season the owners want. In case everything else happening in the world right now isn't enough of a bummer for you, read more about what these rich people are fighting over here.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.