Sports leagues use soft power against Russia due to invasion

#8 Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals scores against the New York Rangers in the second period at the Capital One Arena on October 13, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Patrick Smith | Getty Images

Sports organizations and professional athletes are hitting Russia with their own sanctions as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s armed forces continue their invasion of Ukraine.

So far, the most serious actions have been taken by the world’s leading football federation.

FIFA joined the Union of European Football Associations on Monday to announce this. would ban Russian teams from events including the 2022 World Cup in Qatar until further notice. This move was made a few days after Poland and Sweden. refused to play for Russia in World Cup qualifiers. The World Cup is due to start in November.

The International Olympic Committee also recommended to ban Russian teams from competitions for violating the “Olympic Truce”. Formula 1, owned by Liberty Media, may reschedule the event. The National Hockey League also announced this.

“Sometimes the sport succeeds by using its leverage to make a difference,” said Dr. Harvey Schiller, former executive director of the US Olympic Committee. “Every country is now part of the global economy,” he added. “And when you are part of a global economy and there has been free exchange for so long, this (the war in Ukraine) has upset the apple cart.”

Focus on hockey

Of the four major US leagues, the NHL has the most ties to Russia, thanks to more than two dozen Russian-born hockey players. The league said it stood by its players days after Russian NHL superstar Alex Ovechkin was asked for his thoughts on the matter and took a hard line.

The Washington Capitals star said the invasion was out of his control, adding that “it’s a sad situation for both sides right now.” Ovechkin called “no more war” and noted: “I have a family in Russia and its scary moments.”

Ovechkin, a three-time NHL MVP, said: “I hope this ends soon and there is world peace.”

But Ovechkin has received backlash for not denouncing Putin, the Russian president. “I don’t do politics. I am an athlete,” said the hockey legend.

Former NHL players spoke differently. NHL legend Wayne Gretzky called the Russian invasion a “senseless war”. Now a Turner Sports hockey analyst, Gretzky has also proposed to the International Ice Hockey Federation that Russia be banned from the 2023 junior championships.

On Monday, the hockey leadership granted the request and suspended players from Russia and Belarus in all age categories. Belarus helped Russia invade Ukraine, providing a foothold for part of the attack.

IIHF President Luc Tardif said in a statement that the organization is not “a political entity and cannot influence decisions taken in connection with the war in Ukraine.” However, “we still have an obligation to take care of all our members and participants and therefore we must do everything possible to ensure that our events are held in a safe environment for all teams participating in the Ice Hockey World Championship program.”

Meanwhile, retired NHL goaltender Dominik Hasek, who is Czech, called for more extreme measures, suggesting the NHL should suspend contracts all Russian players.

Schiller, a longtime sports executive and former president of the former Atlanta Thrashers franchise, said the move would go too far.

“They have to play, and that’s the right thing to do,” Schiller said of Russian players remaining in NHL competition. “These players are not oligarchs, they are different. When you play in the NHL, you don’t represent your country, you represent yourself.”

The NHL also suspended agreements with Russian companies. Last September, the NHL closed its first exclusive deal in Russia after agreeing terms with the sports betting company Liga Stavok. The league added that it would shut down Russian-language social media and digital sites and would not consider Russia for future NHL events.

The NHL said they understand the players “and their families are in an extremely difficult situation” because Russia is an authoritarian country. Therefore, player comments may endanger family members and jeopardize their future in Russia.

But the league’s public stance on Russia could ease some of the pressure on NHL players being questioned about it.

“Business will not go as usual,” Schiller said as the invasion continues. He added: “If I were an NHL scout, I wouldn’t get on a plane and fly to Russia. That will not happen”.

Trucks display email messages as protesters demonstrate outside United Nations headquarters, while inside diplomats hold an emergency meeting of the 193-member UN General Assembly over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in New York City’s Manhattan , February 28, 2022.

Mike Segar | Reuters

Basketball, football and judo too

WNBA players also showed their condemnation of the Russian invasion.

ESPN informed WNBA players who play in the region during the off-season will be looking to leave. In a statement to the news organization, the WNBA said the players were no longer in Ukraine and added that “the league has also been in contact with WNBA players who are in Russia, either directly or through their agents. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.” “

International sports sanctions are where Russia can experience unique discomfort, says Declan Hill, professor University of New Haven.

Hill said the organizations are demonstrating that “sports have tremendous soft power” by banning Russians from the events. He added that FIFA’s decision on the World Cup will affect Russia the most.

“Football is as important to the average Russian as the National Football League is to the average American,” said Hill, an expert on corruption in international sports. “It’s a mass cultural phenomenon.”

The IOC also recommended that Belarusian athletes be banned from the competition, as the country is on the side of Russia under the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. F1 said last week that it was “impossible” to host a Russian Grand Prix “under the current conditions”, jeopardizing the race scheduled for September.

Perhaps most personally, the International Judo Federation stripped Putin of his honorary president and ambassador status. Former professional boxers and Ukrainian natives Wladimir Klitschko and Vitali Klitschko have been praised for swearing fight and defend the country from the Russian invasion. Vitali Klitschko is also the mayor of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, which has so far fended off Russian attacks.

“This is a moment in society where we realize that things like life and death are more important than sports,” Hill said, adding that it’s “extremely important” for sports organizations to “say and do the right thing.”

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