Sports are often a respite from the real world. However, escaping in a game doesn’t mean the real world is leaving. There is no “shut up and dribble”, neither for athletes nor for politicians. Nor for the fans.
The 1936 Berlin Olympics, for example, will be remembered for the performances of Jesse Owens, who flew against Adolf Hitler’s ludicrous notion of a master race.
Eighty-six years later, The New York Times reports that Western intelligence agencies believe Chinese President Xi Jinping had advance knowledge of Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine. According to the Times, Xi asked his counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, to wait out the Beijing Winter Olympics before threatening the world order.
Following the invasion, the sports world reacted quickly with a series of sanctions against Russia and Belarus, where Russian troops gathered before striking. If you’re someone who believes in making your voice heard, in choosing a side for the sake of history, then you take comfort in what the NHL had to say:
“The National Hockey League condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and urges a peaceful resolution as soon as possible. Effective immediately, we are suspending our relationships with our business partners in Russia and we are suspending our social and digital media sites in Russian. In addition, we stop considering Russia as a location for future competitions involving the NHL.
“We also remain concerned about the welfare of Russian players, who play in the NHL on behalf of their NHL clubs, not on behalf of Russia. We understand that they and their families are placed in an extremely difficult situation.
In 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, I had a conversation with three Russian players in the Blue Jackets dressing room. The conversation ended when one of them said, “You can’t believe what you see on TV. Obama controls information. And another said, “You didn’t know that?
Suffice it to say that there are cultural and historical chasms between our democracy, strained as it is, and Putin’s autocracy. That’s one of the reasons the NHL is to be commended for the second paragraph of its statement, for its humanity.
Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin is a longtime Putin supporter, activist and staunch supporter. Ovechkin is torn. His family is in Moscow. When he met the media last week, he made a moving appeal for peace, and he said, almost painfully, “(Putin) is my president.”
Ovechkin must skate through a political minefield. Some of the mines he planted himself. It is terribly complex. It has already lost at least two sponsors (CCM Hockey and Mass Mutual).
Former Blue Jacket and current Ranger Artemi Panarin, a vocal critic of Putin, has fallen silent. Presumably, he senses danger.
The Blue Jackets have three Russians on their current roster: defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov, rookie forward Yegor Chinakhov and goaltender Daniil Tarasov. They are among 41 Russian-born players in the league.
According to the Associated Press, “(players) have been asked not to share their views on Ukraine due to the political climate in their country, where the Russian parliament is considering making it a crime to broadcast what the government considers false information about his military efforts in Russia Ukraine.”
Again, the NHL is to be commended for the human touch it has included in a tough stance against the Russian state. His sanctions were just a small part of a global movement that sprung up within days.
FIFA and UEFA have indefinitely suspended all Russian international teams. The UEFA Champions League final scheduled for May 28 in Saint Petersburg has been moved to Paris.
UEFA also canceled a major sponsor, Gazprom, a Russian energy giant.
The governing bodies of basketball, figure skating, Formula 1 racing, ice hockey, skiing, swimming, tennis, volleyball – the list goes on – have come forward to condemn the invasion and sanction Russia and Belarus.
World Taekwondo stripped Putin of his black belt, saying he went against their motto: “Peace is more precious than triumph”.
World Athletics, which oversees athletics and a range of running competitions, imposed sanctions on the Russian and Belarusian federations. World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, a four-time Olympic medalist, said:
“Anyone who knows me will understand that imposing sanctions on athletes because of the actions of their government goes against the grain. I have spoken out against the practice of politicians targeting athletes and sport to make political points while other sectors continue their activities. This is different because governments, companies and other international organizations have imposed sanctions and measures against Russia in all sectors. Sport must step up and join these efforts to end this war and restore peace. We cannot and must not let this one pass.
If you’re the type to wonder why China’s genocide of the Uyghurs – part of a notorious list of human rights abuses – was largely ignored at the recent Beijing Olympics, you may not be. not be as cynical today as two weeks ago.