Let’s keep politics out of sport

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to calls for action against Russian sporting teams and players.

Like many, I am saddened by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For the first time in 77 years, state on state warfare has erupted in Europe, although of course the former Yugoslavia was a bloody quagmire for many years after it split up and the likes of Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and so on sought their independence.

For some reason it has led to calls to ban Russia from various sporting contests and even to suspend or ban individual Russian players from various sporting leagues.

UEFA, the governing body of European soccer (or football), has decided to move its most glamourous event, the UEFA Champions League Final, from Saint Petersburg to Paris. If UEFA was worried about potential safety issues arising from the conflict, then this is something I would support, but the last time I looked, Saint Petersburg was a long way from Ukraine.

Meanwhile, also in soccer, Poland and Sweden are suggesting they wont play Russia in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers next month. While I can understand Poland’s historic dislike of Russia – it was of course carved up by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during World War II, and then had to endure five decades of brutal communist rule after the war – Russia’s soccer players aren’t Vladimir Putin.

Elsewhere, Russian NHL icon Alex Ovechkin was asked for his thoughts on the Russian invasion. Given he is Russian and has family back in Russia, he obviously wasn’t going to criticise Putin. That wasn’t good enough for retired NHL legend Dominik Hasek, who argued that Ovechkin and other Russian players should be suspended from playing in the NHL while the war continued.


In my view this is ridiculous.

Ovechkin and other Russian NHL players have absolutely no influence over their country’s foreign policy. This is like arguing that American players should have been banned from European soccer leagues after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was opposed by many people and countries around the world.

We can all agree that Russia’s actions are barbaric but I think the examples above are needlessly politicising what should be apolitical sporting contests.

To me these actions are further examples of a growing and disturbing trend to use sporting events to make political statements. The most obvious recent example, at least until the current events in the Ukraine, is the ridiculous support by various sporting teams in favour of the communist thugs at Black Lives Matter.

This is deeply unpopular with the majority of sporting fans – as evidenced by the widespread booing whenever it occurs – and like the responses to Russian aggression, politicises something that should be above and beyond politics.

Better ways

Surely there are better ways to show one’s support for the Ukraine or, in fact, any political cause?

Perhaps the sportsmen in question could instead donate to charities operating in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries that are trying to ease the suffering of those affected by the invasion such as injured civilians, refugees and the like.

Or perhaps they could contact their local politicians and request that they respond to Russia through traditional political and diplomatic channels, such as by issuing sanctions on the country.

I don’t support Russia’s actions. It is just that I and most people who watch sport do so for the entertainment, to watch highly skilled sportsmen ply their trade, and also to get away from politics, not to see sportsmen make political statements.

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