Sports

“Sports sanctions against Russia may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back”


Fifa now dictates the rules of the game. It excluded Russia from the FIFA World Cup on Monday, February 28. National teams and Russian clubs are deprived of international competitions ” until further notice “. Several countries had already announced earlier on Monday that they would refuse to face Russia in the 2022 World Cup play-offs, which are due to take place next month. Same story on the side of Formula 1: the Sochi Grand Prix has been canceled by the promoter of the competition, Formula One.

Live. Russia suspended from all football competitions

Other federations, such as boxing and swimming, have canceled and announced that they are no longer planning competitions in Russia. So many decisions taken up in other sports: volleyball, judo and then by the International Olympic Committee itself. What impact can sports diplomacy have on the Ukrainian conflict?

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For the geopolitical scientist and sports specialist in Russia Lukas Aubin, these measures contribute to the isolation of Russia on the international scene, but nevertheless remain symbolic.

To what extent is Russian soft power based on sport?

Putin’s first move as president was to bring his former judo coach to the Kremlin to show his commitment to the sport. This element, among others, shows to what extent the Russian president considers sport to be an essential element for his power and his communication, in particular by rebuilding a politico-economico-sports system. The latter had been largely undermined by the chaos of the 1990s and Russia’s entry into the market economy in order to make it an instrument of soft power internationally. This system has continued until today. This sports policy has had significant consequences: in 2000, 20% of Russians practiced regular physical activity, compared to 40% in 2020.

How has sport helped Vladimir Putin concretely?

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Beyond the desire to make Russia a sporting nation, there is the idea that sport is a coercive element. It makes it possible to convey patriotic values ​​- attachment to the flag, national anthem, photos of the Russian president in gymnasiums. Internationally, this helps to improve the image of Russia in the world, which was considered in 2000 as a weakened power. Sport allows Putin to achieve one of his objectives: to stage Russia’s return to the forefront of the international scene and influence world sport.

Vladimir Putin, power to madness?

We entered another moment of this strategy with the war in Ukraine via the annexation of Crimea and the doping cases, which occurred in 2015. These two cases isolated Russia on the international scene – political and sporting. What was originally a power of attraction has become a tool to legitimize its authority and put itself at odds with Westerners, accused of ganging up unjustly against the Russian state. Anti-Western propaganda and disinformation have replaced soft power.

Will the sanctions imposed on Russia only have economic and symbolic effects?

They can be perceived by the Russian president as a new affront. Vladimir Putin is very attached to sport and it is not inconceivable that he takes it personally, given all the energy he has spent in it. However, one should not overestimate sport, which is only one additional element among the set of economic, diplomatic and potentially military sanctions. It may be the straw that will break the camel’s back, but the other sanctions remain the most important.

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Could sport act as a catalyst, especially in the eyes of the Russian population, which perceives the conflict only through information from Vladimir Putin’s regime?

This may alert the Russian population a little more, but in reality, they don’t need that to be alerted. The Russian informational space may be very opaque, closed, and operate in a vacuum, but Russians under 40 know how to get information and obtain data from the West. Although, of course, the Russian media necessarily influence the worldview of their fellow citizens.

Sponsorship in question, competitions canceled, flags banned: the world of sport reacts to the war in Ukraine

At the moment, many Russian athletes are speaking up to say ” No to war » and therefore, rise in hollow against Vladimir Putin, who is the instigator. This can create a snowball effect. Before, the few people who challenged the political decisions of the Russian president were sanctioned by the regime. Today, we have never seen so many athletes, popular with Russians, take such a stand.

Can “sports diplomacy” ultimately hinder the Russian regime in its war on Ukraine?

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The symbol is powerful but remains minimal next to the hundreds of deaths, the military strategy that each of the two armies follows. Currently, it remains secondary. Ultimately, if the situation were to calm down – which is not certain – it would contribute to the total isolation of Russia vis-à-vis the Western powers. One by one, the moorings give way. Sport, which has long sought to be an apolitical and neutral space, is today obliged to take a stand.

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Can’t the fact that public figures are speaking out to contest the invasion of Ukraine fuel social movements, in the continuity of the demonstrations observed in recent days in Russia?

It is clear that the causes of the war are not understood by the Russian population. Vladimir Putin’s narrative to justify this invasion was not heard by everyone, where at the time of the Crimean invasion he was supported by the vast majority of Russians. Today, five days after the start of the war, 95 Russian cities have been the scene of demonstrations and less than 6,000 people have been arrested by the police. This shows something, even if the majority of Russians are rather wait-and-see in the face of this situation.



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