Sanction Russian World Cup and Olympic Athletes to Send a Message to Putin

by Diane Francis

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In March 1980, former President Jimmy Carter announced sanctions against the Soviet Union and a boycott of the Moscow Olympics in protest against its invasion of Afghanistan.

“We call for the moving of the Olympics or the delay of the Olympics for at least a year, until Soviet troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan, or the canceling of the games,” he said.

Many nations did not join the boycott, and the games proceeded. Then in 1984, the Soviets retaliated against the Los Angeles Olympics.

But it’s thirty-seven years later, and President Donald Trump is soft on Russia and certainly wouldn’t even consider a boycott against Moscow anytime soon.

But Moscow has been on the march again, militarily and virtually. In 2014, under cover of the Sochi Olympics, Russia invaded another neighbor, Ukraine. One year later, it also damaged the world of sports and was exposed for widespread and illegal state-sanctioned doping practices by its athletes in every sport.

So, whether it’s on the killing fields, or the playing fields, Russian misdeeds worsen. That is why two sanctions should occur: FIFA should relocate the summer World Cup 2018 games from Russia and the International Olympic Committee should ban Russian athletes from the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea this February.

Some argue that sports should remain free of politics and that boycotts, bans, and cancelations are impractical, ineffective, and damaging.

But Russia’s presence at the Olympics won’t be missed, particularly by athletes concerned about the un-level playing field they create due to their widespread cheating. And relocating the World Cup by this summer is entirely possible, given the availability of large venues throughout Europe in countries that don’t invade their neighbors or violate the rights of gays and minorities.

There are two other important strategic benefits served by sending Russia to the showers before the games begin. Kicking Russia out of international sports in the run-up to its presidential election this March will prove as effective a tool to bring about social change there as did Russia’s cyberattacks against the US, Brexit, French, German, Polish, and other elections. It will permeate its media Iron Curtain.

Russia denies it has invaded Ukraine, just as it has denied the widespread doping conspiracy unearthed by independent investigators. But last week, the World Anti-Doping Agency has, for the third year in a row, upheld the ruling that the Russian anti-doping agency does not adhere to world standards. In September, the anti-doping agencies from eighteen countries demanded that the Olympic Committee kick Russia out of all games until the country admits wrongdoing, apologizes, and makes amends.

The clock is running out and on December 1, the point of no return for FIFA may have been reached when Moscow hosts a draw to pick the cities in Russia that will host the games. There seems little chance it will move the venue but pressure builds, and sponsors are declining to participate, not just because of Ukraine but also because of doping.

On December 4 or 5, the Olympic Committee must decide whether to let Russian athletes compete in the Olympics in February and beyond, given that their government and officials continue to stonewall the world’s authorities about doping violations.

Despite outcries and evidence, Russia has never admitted any wrongdoing. And never will.

So, that is why thirty-seven years later, Moscow must pay a price.

First published Atlantic Council

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