Between sanctions and positions, does the sport have the means to give weight to Vladimir Putin?


Schalke 04 cut off natural gas from Russia. At a time when Germany was questioning its dependence on Russian gas, the Gelsenkirchen club (Bundesliga 2) made the bold decision to leave its main sponsor and coincidentally sit on 9m euros a year. A nice amount. “The board of FC Schalke 04 has decided, with the agreement of the supervisory board, to terminate the contract with Gazprom before it expires,” Schalke said on Monday.

On a contract basis estimated at 40m euros per year since 2012, the partner also terminated its contract with Gazprom in a statement Monday evening, as there has never been a single blow from UEFA. A reminder of an even greater shock: A few minutes ago, the body headed by Aleksander Ceferin announced that Russian clubs were excluded from all international competitions. With the direct result of the elimination of Spartak Moscow, he took part in the qualifying stages of the Europa League.

UEFA had already shown its difference by moving the Champions League final from Saint Petersburg to Stade de France last week. “Too bad,” replied the Kremlin, more impressed than it seemed. Today, it must be completely knocked out. Fifa, its most trusted partner in world sports, has announced that it has removed Russia from the 2022 World Cup. Putin lost everything on the sports chessboard in a split second.

A final blow as sanctions rain down since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Non-exhaustive list:

  • IOC’s recommendation not to invite Russian and Belarusian athletes to the federations and Vladimir Putin’s recommendation to withdraw the Olympic order.
  • It calls for the Poles, Swedes and Czechs to refuse to face Russia in the 2022 World Cup cutoff, and now calls for their expulsion from the next World Cup, a decision FIFA could take in the coming hours. once the bravest of the IOC.
  • Cancellation of Sochi GP.
  • Temporary exclusion of Russian basketball clubs from Euroleague
  • Russian athletes declared persona non grata in England, Norway and Sweden
  • The Russian anthem and flag were banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Importance of sport in Russia

Secondly, during the war, in its battles and in the lives lost, the withdrawal from the sport imposed on Russia does not remain unimportant. For experts, this is a cause for concern for Moscow and a personal insult to Putin. Little known in the West for his art of developing friendships, the Russian president was the first to congratulate him on the phone after the 2013 election of Thomas Bach and the ties that united him with Gianni Infantino – Putin awarded him the Order of Friendship. 2019 – has long annoyed many Fifa enemies.

“Russians are passionate about sports. Hosting big events gets them excited, and stepping aside immediately triggers questions about what’s going on. “,” explains Michael Payne, head of marketing at CIO for twenty years.

We remember. The 2018 World Cup allowed crowds and other scenes of joy caused by exploiting a knockout size in the quarter-finals against Spain. In front of the police who never blinked once. Was this a sign? At that time it was somewhat naively believed that football changed Russian society. Maybe there was some truth. It shows again today, this time not without compromise. Because it’s a matter of condemning the invasion in Ukraine and therefore opposing Vladimir Putin with the risks that it implies. According to the NGO OVD-INFO, 3,000 people were arrested on Saturday, February 26.

Russian athletes speak

The unanimity imagined by the Kremlin does not exist, and sport is no exception, although it is an excellent propaganda tool. Former boxer Alexander Povetkin may have defended the occupation in Ukraine and praised his virtues in eliminating resurgent Nazism, above all there are many Russian athletes who favor peace. Tennis player Andrey Rublev, international football player Fedor Smolov, hockey player Alex Ovechkin or cyclist Pavel Sivakov – among others – have openly expressed their rejection of war: it can only “encourage the population to question the actions of their leaders and undermine national support for war,” Payne said.

Therefore, is it appropriate to sentence all Russian athletes to solitary confinement? If the West is keeping them from exercising or stigmatizing them, the question may be raised of these athletes’ permanent involvement in the pacifist cause. I’m not sure if the IOC’s “we welcome the many calls for peace initiated by athletes” will be sufficient in the long run.

Such a strategy, besides being frustrating, fuels the fantasy that Vladimir Putin has long conveyed to a public whose patriotism he has sought to rekindle on the international stage, particularly at the altar of isolation in sports. Lukas Aubin, French geopolitical scientist, 20 minutes :

“Power goes through a lot through ‘one against all’. Russia has been in an isolated position in recent years, especially at the time of international events due to doping. That was the case for the Rio Olympics, Euro 2021, 2021 Olympics and Beijing Olympics. The saying, ‘Westerners do not understand us, in this case they took the side of Ukraine, they do not see that our history is common’ has always been like this. All these are used in every sporting event. »

Abramovich as mediator?

Finally, we must not forget about the problem of Russian oligarchs present in European sport. AS Monaco, owned by Russian billionaire Dimitri Rybolovlev, has so far been very cautious about it. As for Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea, he went to entrust the management of the London club to the “managers of the Chelsea charitable foundation”, the formula is as ambiguous as it seems. Even more surprising: According to the Jerusalem Post, the Russian-Israeli billionaire is in Belarus, at Ukraine’s request, as part of a mediation aimed at ending the war. If it’s hard to imagine how the Chelsea president had the tools to bring peace to Europe, it seems that Russian sport has escaped Vladimir Putin, at least in part.