KICKED OUT

Overlap of sports and politics is unavoidable as the suspension of Russian teams shows

World football’s governing body FIFA ejecting all Russian teams , national representatives or club sides , from its competitions until further notice is the most severe of sporting sanctions imposed in the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine crisis . The announcement was coordinated with European football’s controlling organisation UEFA, making the ban applicable at the continental level too. The immediate casualties will be Russia’s Qatar 2022 World Cup playoff match against Poland this month, and a prospective qualifier against Sweden or the Czech Republic, and Spartak Moscow’s Europa League Contest against Germany’s RB Leipzig . UEFA went further and ended a lucrative sponsorship deal (around$ 50 million a year, reportedly) with Russian gas giant Gazprom . Last week , UEFA had shifted the venue for this summer’s Champion league final from St. Petersburg to Paris . Russian teams – not Russian athletes -were already serving a two year ban from global competitions ( to end on December 16, 2022) for the doping scandal first reported at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi . FIFA’ s initial measures, announced on Sunday ,were similar; of of Russia playing without its flag and national anthem, at neutral venues and behind closed doors . A total ban came close on the heels of the international Olympic committee (IOC) , on Monday ,recommending to sports federation not to allow Russian athletes in order to “protect the integrity of global sports competitions”.

It remains unclear if the IOC indirectly forced FIFA’s hand, but it has resurrected the debate whether athletes should pay the price for the machinations of their political leadership. The IOC , unlike a few individual sporting bodies , has often sought to shield clean sportspersons from becoming collateral damage, a position it took in the doping scandal too. It based the recent ban recommendation on the need to ensure a level playing field , a sacrosanct Olympic playing ideal. The works of geo politics and sports have long overlapped . But they have not seemed this entangled in recent memory.