From the US to Zimbabwe, RT Sport takes a look at how sporting federations have applied – and opted against – sanctions on nations
https://www.rt.com/-Russia is facing a wide range of sporting sanctions © Carlos Cuin / Jam Media / Getty Images
Russia has faced a wide range of sporting sanctions since the military operation in Ukraine began on February 24.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) encouraged sporting federations to take action against Russia, and the International Paralympic Committee, football governing bodies FIFA and UEFA, the International Ski Federation and the International Swimming Federation have been among the major organizations to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing until further notice.
Which countries have been punished in the past? What decisions have federations made – and not made – over nations involved in military conflicts? How long do measures usually last, and how much effect can they have? Here are some examples from history that could provide some answers.
Apartheid-era South Africa
Between the 1930s and 1990s, a litany of governing bodies took action against South Africa over the apartheid policy that enforced racial segregation and politically and economically discriminated against non-white people.
While there has been much debate around whether the conflict in Ukraine can or should be directly linked to athletes, the link between apartheid and sport became abhorrently clear on several occasions.
Johannesburg had been due to host the Commonwealth Games in 1934, only to lose the showpiece because it refused to welcome non-white athletes.
The IOC excluded South Africa from the 1964 Olympic Games because the country’s then-interior minister, Jan de Klerk, said the team would not be racially integrated.
South Africa was expelled from FIFA between 1961 and 1992, unsurprisingly failing with bizarre attempts to enter an all-white team at the 1966 World Cup and an all-black lineup at the 1970 edition.
Rugby union chiefs kept South Africa out of the first two editions of the sport’s World Cup, in 1987 and 1991. Cricket – which South Africa was exiled from until anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela was freed from prison in 1990 – and golf were among the other disciplines to act as the nation fell sharply from the international stage.
Mandela’s laborious, ultimately successful attempts to end apartheid had the popular knock-on effect of swiftly returning South Africa to a host of major sporting bodies and competitions.
Germany and Japan, 1950 World Cup
The German Football Association was disbanded as the Second World War ended in 1945, returning in January 1950 and only being readmitted to FIFA as West Germany in September 1950, with East Germany joining two years later.
Their counterparts in Japan had been suspended in 1945, and both nations were still occupied at the time of the finals in Brazil, when the hosts finished second to Uruguay.
Italy – the defending champions from the previous edition, held in 1938 – were allowed to take part because the country’s new administration was sympathetic to Allied nations, although the Azzurri suffered a surprise group-stage exit.
Russia’s current predicament with FIFA is somewhat muddled. Reports that they would be expelled at the 72nd FIFA Congress, held in Doha to coincide with the Qatar 2022 World Cup finals draw this week, appear to have proved unfounded, although they would have been required to compete under neutral status at the tournament.
Manager Valeri Karpin’s team would have been confident in the playoffs, in which they would have defended their unbeaten home qualifying record against two middling European rivals in Poland and Sweden.
Karpin has said that common sense will prevail if a Court of Arbitration for Sport appeal overturns the legal validity of Russia’s suspension from FIFA competitions, repeating the punishment levied by UEFA.
While it is hard to imagine how Russia could resume their qualification campaign after Poland were given a bye instead of playing them, it is easier to envisage more countries joining the nation captained by Robert Lewandowski – the FIFA Best Men’s Player who voiced his reluctance to play the fixture – in publicly stating their refusal to play against Russia.
All of the federations to have sanctioned Russians have implied or declared their condemnation of the attack on Ukraine, although few have made clear the conditions that would ease or end their restrictions.
That will have increased the pain and frustration being felt by stars such as Russia’s routinely medal-winning figure skaters, who missed out on the World Championships in France this month because of an International Skating Union ruling.
Yugoslavia, EURO 1992
The words of former UEFA general secretary Gerhard Aigner might resonate with Russian players who have seen their 2022 World Cup dreams all-but dashed despite a solid, lengthy qualifying campaign to earn that playoff place.
“Something you have achieved in sport should be respected,” Aigner said when he was asked whether Yugoslavia would be allowed to take their spot at EURO 1992 in the wake of the Bosnian War starting. “The best competitors should be at the best events.”
International sporting endeavors by Yugoslavians were heavily affected by UN sanctions, and FIFA banned teams from the country from all competitions at the time, including qualifiers for the 1994 USA World Cup.
Yugoslavian football chiefs sounded a note of defiance as their team arrived in Sweden for the European Championships in 1992, although they were forced to relocate because of threats at a base close to a center for Kosovan refugees.
Ivica Osim, the team’s impressive manager, resigned and numerous non-Serbian players left the squad.
UEFA subsequently removed Yugoslavia from the tournament in a move that Miljan Miljanic, the director of the Yugoslavian Football Association, called “an aggression against football” that had left the players shocked.
Peter Schmeichel, the legendary goalkeeper for Yugoslavia’s late-notice replacements in the finals, Denmark, admitted that he had traveled with a “heavy heart” over a sporting situation that he believed had no winners, although there was a fairytale ending for the Manchester United icon and his teammates when they stunned the world by winning the tournament.
Yugoslavia could only watch on. Athletes from the nation were also banned by cycling authorities in a repeat of the UCI’s current ruling on Russians, and only individual athletes from the country were allowed to take part in the 1992 Olympic Games.
As is the case with Russia, the International Tennis Federation banned Yugoslavia from team events. That means the current Davis Cup holders will not defend their title, while the likes of Daniil Medvedev, who is vying with Novak Djokovic for the men’s number one ranking, are competing in singles competitions as neutrals.
Zimbabwe cricket controversy under Robert Mugabe
From around 2003, some England cricketers wanted their country’s government to intervene and ban Zimbabwe from playing in the UK.
Then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown did intervene in 2008, preventing the would-be tourers from playing a one-day series as violence erupted in Zimbabwe under President Robert Mugabe’s rule.
The decision ended months of talks with the England and Wales Cricket Board, who were accused by some of a lack of action.
Others argued that cricketers should not be punished for the troubling situation, calling boycotts pointless.
Cricket South Africa, which had supported Zimbabwe’s right to tour, suspended contact in 2008, and Australia’s squad were said to be relieved when their government canceled a tour they were due to make to Zimbabwe, ending the risk of a $2 million fine for non-participation from the International Cricket Council.
Somewhat similarly, a raft of countries and federations have said that they will boycott any opportunities to take part in events in Russia.
UEFA’s decision to switch the Champions League final in May from St. Petersburg to Paris is the most high-profile of the showpieces that will now not take place in Russia.
The current British government is also playing a high-profile role in sanctions against Russia, most notably in the freezing of Roman Abramovich’s assets that will result in the long-serving Chelsea owner being unable to profit from an apparently imminent sale of the Premier League heavyweights.
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston has said plans are afoot to ensure Russian and Belarusian stars sign declarations of assurance that they do not support Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict or Russian President Vladimir Putin, who they are set to be duty-bound to confirm they are not receiving money from.
That is certain to intensify the thorny row around whether athletes should be held accountable for political events in their homelands. Putin himself has repeatedly criticized the politicization of sports.
The hanging of a champion wrestler in Iran, 2020
When Iranian national wrestling champion Navid Afkari was tried for the alleged murder of a security agent at an anti-government demonstration in 2018, then-US President Donald Trump was among those to call for the 27-year-old to be pardoned.
Afkari’s family said he had been tortured into giving a confession that was aired on state television before his execution in September 2020.
John Coates, the vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, spoke to the chair of the organization, Thomas Bach, amid calls for Iran to be expelled from the Olympic movement.
In a purported response that some might view as inconsistent with its ruling on Russia, the IOC is said to have decided not to take action because Afkari’s hanging was not related to sport.
“The difficulty for us is this execution didn’t relate to a sporting event,” Coates said at the time.
“And the other difficulty is, of course, that there are probably 50 of the national Olympic committees that come from territories that still have capital punishment.”
Athletes, coaches and Nobel Peace Prize winners are part of an ongoing campaign calling for Iran to be suspended from international sports because of the killing of Afkari and what they describe as systematic discrimination against women, including restrictions on female athletes.
Bach said he had appealed to Iran’s government to spare Afkari, but it seems unlikely that any further action will be taken despite his brutal death.
US military conflicts
The US has repeatedly been involved in major military campaigns without facing sporting sanctions.
In 1991, after the US-led Gulf War began, the country’s Olympic Committee admitted that it did not know whether the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona would be able to go ahead because of the conflict.
Wrestling, speed skating and football teams changed their schedules and the American ski team in Europe temporarily left the World Cup circuit because of security concerns.
The IOC also reduced the number of meetings it held and the amount of travel it undertook at the time.
Among other wars the US has spearheaded, war crimes are listed as being perpetrated in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq.
There has long been talk of the country’s former president, George W Bush, facing criminal proceedings over the Iraq War, which killed hundreds of thousands of people between 2003 and 2011.
In December 2021, at the same time as the US was preparing to carry out a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games because of alleged human rights abuses by China, the Senate blocked a resolution that would have banned a $650 million sale of missiles and missile launchers to Saudi Arabia, which led a bloody military intervention in Yemen.
That has led to accusations that powerful organizations such as the IOC and FIFA are selective and inconsistent when deciding which conflicts they should try to exert influence over.
Boycotts and punishments of Israel
Individuals and federations have long been involved in political rows and acts related to tensions in Israel.
Perhaps the most notable was Israel’s expulsion from the Asian Football Confederation after 20 years as a member in 1974.
Arab and Muslim members had refused to play against Israel, which only returned to a confederation when it joined UEFA fully in 1994.
The Gaza War in 2009 led to numerous high-profile boycotts and protests, and the International Paralympic Committee moved the World Para Swimming Championships from Malaysia in 2019 because organizers would not let Israelis participate.
“FIFA has rarely acted against rogue states,” Sean Jacobs, an Associate Professor of International Affairs at New York university The New School, recently pointed out, analyzing the response to the start of the attack on Ukraine.
“Especially ones who illegally occupy and oppress others such as the US and its various invasions and occupations in the past, India in Kashmir, and Israel over the Palestinians.
“Israel’s case is one that hits closer to home for European football [because] Israel is a member of UEFA.”
The International Judo Federation, which suspended Putin as its honorary president and ambassador in February, also took action against Algerian judo athlete Fethi Nourine when he refused to face an Israeli opponent at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
Qatar World Cup 2022
Never has a football World Cup been as controversial off the pitch as the tournament that will take place in Qatar in November and December 2022.
Claims of bribery and vote-rigging have dogged the first finals to be held in an Arab state ever since the surprise host nation was announced in 2010.
Reports in 2021 said that 6,500 migrant workers had died while working on stadiums for the grandest event on the football calendar, although organizers have insisted that their critics are misinformed.
Human rights groups have long called for strong action to be taken, and teams including Norway and Germany have worn T-shirts before matches highlighting alleged human rights abuses, although they stopped short of carrying out boycotts.
One of the best-known managers in the international game, England’s Gareth Southgate, spoke at length this week about how his players intended to make their concerns on the issues felt and speak to campaigners.
Southgate effectively acknowledged that donning t-shirts can be no more than a token gesture. He also suggested that women and LGBTQ+ fans feel sufficiently unsafe not to travel to the finals because of local laws.
There has been talk of teams being advised that they can have more impact by highlighting issues while they are in Qatar rather than shunning the tournament, but it seems unlikely that any efforts they make will have meaningful consequences.
FIFA’s annual Congress takes place in Doha this week alongside the draw for the finals, illustrating that it is full steam ahead for Qatar and the governing body.
New legislation around employees such as a minimum wage were passed into law in Qatar in 2020. Recent reports, though, suggest that the improvements implemented have been underwhelming.