Russian triathlon

There is a push from international sports activists to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate in international competitions. The argument is that sports and politics should not mix, but there is a lack of acknowledgment that sports must also be held to moral standards. As a result, politics is often brought up in discussions, which can bring about negative associations. However, let’s focus our discussion solely on sports.

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Here is a sports center in the Chernihiv region, one of many sports facilities destroyed by the Russians during the war in Ukraine. Photo (Ukrainian foundation dealing with the reconstruction of ruined infrastructure)

It’s interesting to note that Russia faced sports penalties and sanctions long before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. These sanctions were not imposed for political reasons or due to the initial aggression against Ukraine. The penalties were enforced after Grigory Rodchenkov, the head of the Russian doping agency (RUSADA), and a few Russian athletes fled to the West.

The American and European justice systems were informed about a widespread fraud scheme and disregard for players’ health. It was uncovered that in Russia, there exists a system of state support for illegal pharmacological doping by the Kremlin and its secret services. Although doping scandals also occur in the West, they are typically isolated incidents resulting at the end of an athlete’s career. There are no countries in the West that show leniency towards cheaters. However, in Putin’s Russia, doping is the norm, and without it, Russian professional sports would practically cease to exist.

In the Netflix documentary “Icarus,” Rodchenkov claims doping was common in the USSR, even among children, which he experienced firsthand as a teenage runner.

The background story related to Rodchenkov and RUSADA is even more disturbing. To evade potential harm, Rodchenkov fled to the USA. After a group of fugitive Russian athletes exposed RUSADA’s and Rodchenkov involvement in doping practices in Russia, he feared that he would be held accountable by the Kremlin and ultimately eliminated. One of his colleagues passed away in mysterious circumstances. Rodchenkov has been given a new identity and placed in the witness protection program of the FBI in the United States.

Following the scandal, Russia refused to cooperate with the international anti-doping agency WADA and the International Olympic Committee to investigate the matter. Consequently, Russian athletes were banned from participating in specific prestigious international disciplines, particularly track and field, except for a few who were not involved in the scandals and could still compete under a neutral flag. Several athletes had their Olympic, World, and European Championship medals stripped away. Russian athletes continued participating in team sports despite allegations due to insufficient concrete evidence.

It is well-known that Russia and Belarus have been banned from most sports because of their involvement in the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. However, due to certain loopholes, Belarus has been able to participate in particular sports, including football. Some sports federations Russia previously influenced have been attempting to allow athletes from banned countries to join through the back door this year.

Sanctions have rarely been imposed on tennis players. Russian and Belarusian athletes can take part in tournaments without interruptions or obstacles if they sign secret declarations against war and refrain from using the flags of Russia and Belarus. However, this sometimes leads to unpleasant situations around the courts, which can harm the spirit of the sport and the image of tennis as an elite discipline.

In Russia and Belarus, many sports players work full-time in law enforcement agencies. It is an indication that they are entirely dependent on their jobs. However, sports should ideally represent freedom, not enslavement. Unfortunately, some athletes from Belarus and Russia face persecution, imprisonment, intimidation, or are even compelled to leave their homeland. Some became brutal tools of the regime themselves, like the assassins of Raman Bandarenko.

Apart from athletes, individuals who are fans of sports in these countries are also subjected to persecution and abuse by their respective regimes. As a consequence of rigged elections in 2020, many active football fans had to flee Belarus to seek asylum abroad due to the repressive measures taken by the authorities against them for participating in protests. Some of them ended up joining the Belarusian Kalinouski Regiment and different formations of the Ukrainian army, while others even lost their lives in the process.

Recently, Ukrainian kickboxing world champion Serhiy Lysiuk was killed in combat in Donbas while defending his country against the Russian invasion. Since the war began, hundreds of Ukrainian athletes and sports activists, ranging from youths and juniors to accomplished professionals, have perished. The victims also include numerous women and children. The surviving athletes have abandoned their careers, are training in ever-worsening conditions, or are fighting on the front lines.

The Russians are destroying the sports infrastructure in Ukraine. It includes stadiums, training centers, pitches, halls, and other facilities. Due to this destruction, there is a lack of funds, training camps, coaches, and people willing to participate in sports. In addition, training and matches are frequently interrupted by alarms.

It’s important to acknowledge that many fans have been affected by the war in Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian football league authorities, at least 160 fans of different teams have been killed during the conflict. However, these figures only include the most active fans identified by the clubs they supported, including military personnel. In reality, many of the war victims in Ukraine were likely avid fans of different sports. It’s important to remember that sports also need fans, and the loss of their life is heartbreaking.

Adding to the challenges faced by sports in Ukraine are threats to players’ and fans’ mental and physical well-being. If this trend persists for several years, it could eventually lead to the complete disappearance of Ukrainian sports disciplines.

Some world sports officials are concerned about Russia and Lukashenka’s sports representatives’ participation in upcoming events such as next year’s Olympics or soccer competitions. FIFA and UEFA have attempted to include Russian junior players in these athletics games, arguing that children should not be held responsible for the actions of their parents. However, these efforts will likely fail. Meanwhile, the question remains: what about Ukrainian junior players?

The Russians and their supporters desire to participate in regular sports competitions. However, it is concerning that they are undermining the sports industry in Ukraine while mistreating athletes and fans in their own country. Additionally, it is unfair to allow their participation in such competitions purely for sporting reasons. It is widely acknowledged that Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s Belarus are unsuitable for world-class sports.

Unfortunately, the most popular discipline in Russian Mir is the gloomy “Russian triathlon.” Killing athletes, killing fans, and destroying sports infrastructure.

Marcin Herman/

Translated by PEV


The opinions and thoughts expressed in the text reflect only the author's views.