Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to its banishment from world sport and mark a “break” in the apolitical stance of world sports institutionsthe geopolitical scientist Lukas Aubin pointed out this Friday in an interview with Agence France-Presse.
Is Russia close to being a world sports outcast?
How can the world sports institutions react to this conflict?
We are in an extraordinary situation in that we haven’t experienced such a conflict since the Second World War. Decisions are beginning to be made and they will be a milestone. Certain matches in the World Cup qualifiers cannot be played in Russia because the teams reject it. We see that all the international sports institutions are trying to mark the ground and tip the balance, since there we are in a balance of power on a planetary scale. The institutions that generally tend to be reluctant to get involved from a political point of view and that declare themselves apolitical – it is also written in the Olympic charter – are in the process of change.
This apoliticism established as an intangible law in sports organizations, can it be sustained in the face of a conflict of this nature?
So far we have already seen sports institutions make decisions against certain countries. But in general these institutions were strong with weak countries and weak with strong countries. And now, we have a feeling that the moment is too serious for sports institutions to say ‘well, we can’t really do it because it’s Russia, Gazprom finances the Champions League, etc.’ I have the feeling that we are at a breaking point and that the measures that will follow will be unprecedented.
How big is Russia’s sphere of influence in sports?
There are sports institutions and federations that are run by Russians who are close to power, I am thinking in particular of the International Chess Federation or the European Judo Federation, for example. Then there is the case of what are called in Russia the ‘pocket oligarchs’, those people that Vladimir Putin mobilized in the early 2000s to invest in Russian and world sports. We think of Chelsea with Abramovich, for example, although he regularly denies his ties to Putin. There were many meetings. between Putin and the oligarchs to ask them to invest in sports. There was also this idea of expanding Russia’s influence abroad through sports. It was also a political goal, soft power, the main objective was to improve the image of Russia. Today it is more of an influence tool, it is not exactly the same.
Can we imagine this network of Russian influence changing after the conflict?
Yes, but I think we haven’t really been into soft power for some time. We have the feeling, given the succession of doping cases, that this soft power is rather internal, used by the Russian president on his population, but that it is less effective abroad than before.
Could European sport, for example, suffer a massive withdrawal of Russian sponsorship?
From a financial point of view, if Uefa decides to separate from Gazprom, there will be an impact. But they are great institutions. We can imagine another sponsor replacing him. It will not be difficult for them to find a great sponsor, knowing that the Champions League is one of the most watched competitions on the planet, but if UEFA were to separate from Gazprom, it would be a huge blow, it would set a precedent in the history of modern sport and in the impact that international sports institutions can have on States and international relations
Can we imagine that Russia will be excluded in the coming days or weeks from international sports competitions?
Yes, it is possible in the sense that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the master in his own house. In 2016, for example, the World Anti-Doping Agency asked to exclude Russia from the Rio Olympics, but the IOC said no. If it considers that the situation is no longer sustainable, the IOC can go as far as exclusion.
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