Russian sports sanctions leaving impacts on individual careers

As the war continues, the debate over sports sanctions placed on Russian athletes endures

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By Jordan Copp

This article has been updated to include interviews with Susan Todd and Christopher Yorke.

More than a month after the Feb. 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian athletes find themselves being held accountable for actions they had no part in.

Christopher Yorke, philosopher of sport and instructor at Langara, says that athletes growing up in Russia will have their careers affected by this war.

“It’s tragic because the people coming up in the sports world now had no causal influence on the course of international events. They didn’t plan or participate in any offensive manoeuvres, and so in a way they are the victims of this situation.”

Yorke says that athletes are in essence another casualty of the war as their careers are influenced by forces outside of their control. Their personal opinions can affect their career. Various international sports organizations such as the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Bejing have placed sanctions on Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials, banning them from participating.

Russian athletes now commodities

“We often say that politics have no place in sport, but sport is intertwined with politics,” said Susan Todd, a professor in the department of kinesiology at Langara.

Todd says that when players reach the professional level and are playing with athletes from other countries they must act appropriately.

Some sanctions have impacted individual athletes while others have affected entire teams. Aziz Rajwani, an instructor at the Langara school of management and member of the board of BC Sports Hall of Fame says that both levels of sanctions are of use.

He says that the sports sanctions being placed in Russia should have been more severe from the beginning.

“You have to ask yourself, well are those individuals responsible for these actions? And in most cases, they are not therefore they should probably not be individual sanctions,” he said. Rajwani said that athletes are responsible for their personal influence and what they broadcast about themselves.

“But to the extent that a particular athlete comes out as pro-Putin and makes his, her or their views known, then it is quite legitimate to sanction that individual,” he said.

“I think the sports sanctions initially were kind of soft, particularly by UEFA saying the Russian team could play but not under their own flag,” he said in reference to the Union of European Football Associations.

Rajwani says that although the initial response was light-handed, stricter sanctions have since come into place.

“The message has to be sent that Russia’s not going to be allowed to play in any tournaments be they FIFA or UEFA, and that’s what happened.” He added that the Formula One racing championships cancelled an event in the Russian city of Sochi.

Russian sports on an international stage

Ramjee Parajulee, a political science instructor at Langara, defines economic sanctions as: “Some measures imposed on a country that doesn’t respect rules and regulations in the international community or being perceived as violated the institutional regulations.”

Norm Fennema, a history professor at University of Victoria, says that sports create legitimacy in the international arena.

“No one has spent more on the Olympics than the Russians . . . I do believe that sanctioning Russians has had a massive impact at a symbolic level.”

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