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Western powers urge global sports federations to ban Russia, Belarus athletes

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko take a break during a friendly ice hockey match in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, February 7, 2020. (File photo by EPA)

The United States and its Western allies, plus South Korea and Japan, have called for suspension of Russian and Belarusian athletes from international sports federations over Moscow's ongoing military operation in Ukraine.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, 35 western countries along with South Korea and Japan further said that sports organizations should also consider suspending the broadcasting of competitions into Russia and Belarus.

“Individuals closely aligned to the Russian and Belarusian states, including but not limited to government officials, should be removed from positions of influence on international sport federations, such as boards and organizing committees,” said the statement by sports ministers and culture officials released by the US Department of State.

In a similar call on March 8, Washington and its allies had said that Russia and Belarus should not be permitted to host, bid for or be awarded any international sporting events.

Since the onset of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, the US and its European allies have not only unleashed a raging flood of advanced weapons into the ex-Soviet country to help its military to fend off Russian forces but also imposed waves of unprecedented sanctions against Moscow, attempting to ultimately make Russia a pariah nation.

The US and European Union (EU) have led a campaign to ostracize Russia in hopes of pressuring President Vladimir Putin, who took visible pride in Russia’s hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2018 World Cup.

Belarus, Russia’s close ally, has been targeted over its support for Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine. Kiev recently said missiles purportedly fired from Belarus had struck Ukrainian territory.

Russia’s case at Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)

After Moscow commenced its operation in Ukraine, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) banned Russian national teams and clubs from participating in football competitions.

UEFA ruled in May to bar Russian football clubs from all tournaments, including men’s teams and the women’s team for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

In response, the Football Union of Russia took the case to the CAS in March, the world’s top sporting tribunal, which on Tuesday held the first of two planned hearings of Russia’s union.

The Football Union of Russia at the time demanded the immediate reinstatement of all teams for competition, arguing the “irreparable harm” that their exclusion would have on tournaments, including the FIFA World Cup, potential sponsorship losses, loss of experience, and loss of opportunity to compete against opponents of high standard, according to a report by Sputnik.

The Russian union also warned that for players 30 years old or older, the 2022 World Cup constituted “the last chance of their career to play such a tournament.”

According to Sputnik, the bans affecting Russia’s football players are just the latest instance of discrimination against Russia’s athletes by international sporting bodies in recent years.

Ukraine’s Zelensky praises IOC for supporting bans on Russian sport

On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the move by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for supporting a ban on Russian teams and athletes competing in most Olympics sports.

“While Russia is trying to destroy the Ukrainian people and conquer other European countries, its representatives have no place in the world's sports community,” Zelensky said.

Russian teams have already been removed from over 15 soccer competitions and the women's European Championship finals tournament due to begin on Wednesday in the United Kingdom.

Russia has time and again said the Western flood of weapons will not force Moscow to end the operation before achieving its objectives. The Kremlin has also warned that the unprecedented sanctions against Russia, plus the flow of arms into Ukraine, would only prolong the ongoing war.

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