In December, when numerous countries, including the United States and Canada, announced their diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games, the Kremlin issued a statement saying, “Our position is that the Olympic Games should be free of politics.”

Then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin take part July 13, 2014, in the official ceremony of handover to Russia as the 2018 World Cup hosts, after the World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina in Rio de Janeiro. The ceremony took place a mere five months after Russia illegally annexed Crimea. Alexei Nikolsky, RIA-Novosti, Presidential Press Service, File via Associated Press

Sadly, nothing could be further than the truth.

On Feb. 24, just four days after the 2022 Games ended, Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine. Nearly eight years earlier, the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics closed Feb. 23. Three days later, Russian forces moved on Crimea.

It is no coincidence that Putin chose the closing of two Olympic Games to trigger unprovoked aggression. These actions reflect just how central sport is to Vladimir Putin.

Case in point: the Sochi 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Budget was not an issue, and a rural ski resort was transformed into a world-class sports hub. Throw in the FIFA World Cup, F1 and the world championships in track and field and in ice hockey, and the policy priority of sport is clear. Putin’s systematic state-sponsored doping program, brought to light shortly after the 2014 Sochi Games, demonstrates that, for Putin, sport is more than a game.

We must play his game. Like autocrats before him, Vladimir Putin only responds to one thing – strength.


Unfortunately, the global sporting community has shown anything but strength in confronting Russia. Russian athletes avoided major doping penalties and suspensions following Sochi, and were permitted to compete at subsequent Olympic and Paralympic Games. A mere five months after the illegal annexation in Crimea, Putin stood on the stage at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, inviting the world to come to Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Few debate that the invasion of Ukraine is an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation and a violation of international law. Now is the time for the sporting community to do what it has been unable or unwilling. It must be united and strong, and take drastic measures to isolate Russia, Putin and his enablers.

A two-pronged strategy is needed.

First, all amateur sport governing bodies must suspend Russia and Belarus from the global sport community immediately. This sanction will mean all athletes representing Russia and Belarus will be prohibited from participating in all international sporting events starting with the upcoming Paralympic Games. This suspension requires all international sporting events scheduled to be hosted by Russia and Belarus to be relocated.

The second prong is more contentious and more powerful. To date, no Russian or Belarusian athlete has explicitly denounced the invasion. The silence is deafening. It is imperative to mobilize these athletes. We recognize they are in a very difficult personal position, and a potentially dangerous one for them and their families. However, being part of the global sport community is not a right: It is a privilege that comes with a responsibility. As a result, we propose that all athletes, administrators, managers, investors, owners and other stakeholders engaged in high-performance sport be required to sign a unified declaration denouncing the invasion of Ukraine. To have full impact, the declaration must be adopted by all international sport federations and professional leagues. Failure to sign this declaration by any individual will result in suspension.

This systematic ostracization of Russia from the global sporting community, including explicit denouncement by Russian and Belarusian athletes, will be a personal cost to Putin and will anger elite Russians who benefit from the prestige of sport. This could be the fuel needed to embolden ordinary Russian and Belarusian citizens to encourage an end to senseless aggression.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” Now is the time for the global sport community to deliver on this promise.

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