Since Monday on the green lawns of Wimbledon, not a single representative of Russian tennis has been seen. Two months ago, the sanction of the British authorities fell due to the invasion of Ukraine: Medvedev, Rublev, Khachanov and the other players concerned would watch the tournament at home. “In the circumstances of unjustified and unprecedented military aggression, it would be unacceptable for the Russian regime to derive any benefit from the participation of Russian or Belarusian players,” the All England Lawn Tennis Club said.
One example among many of the progressive banishments of Russian athletes and teams from the world circuit. Jumble: the Champions League, the Paralympic Winter Games, the Football World Cup or even Formula 1 took a stand, deciding to exclude the representatives from the Russian Federation.
Russian sport once again excluded from major international events, it became a habit after the major doping scandal that shook the country in the 2010s. To date, there are 43 Russian Olympic medalists disqualified for having tested positive after their supposed sporting achievements. Suspended for four years from all competitions by the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2019, Russia saw its sanction reduced by two years. Its athletes were still able to participate in the last Summer Olympics in Tokyo and Winter Olympics in Beijing under the neutral acronym ROC, with the absence of flag and anthem in both cases – this suspension ends on 17 December 2022.
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Asked by Le Point, Lukas Aubin, specialist in geopolitics and sport in Russia, explains that these multiple suspensions are a real blow for Moscow. “We have a Vladimir Putin in 2000 who decided to make sport an attractive weapon, of soft power. There was a desire to glorify Russia, to make it powerful internationally, through the performance of its athletes and the organization of events at home. Putin is now paying the price for this policy, winning competitions by all means. The FSB secret service was implicated in institutional doping. Russia suffered the other side of the coin, Ukraine was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Despite real sporting qualities in several disciplines, we will undoubtedly witness one or two sacrificed generations of Russian sportsmen. »
Personally involved in the revival of Russian sport when he arrived in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin saw the house of cards he had built crumble before his eyes. For Kévin Veyssière of FC Géopolitics: “UEFA was one of the first bodies to react, by very quickly relocating the final from Saint Petersburg to Paris. On the FIFA side, between Gianni Infantino and Vladimir Poutine, we are walking on eggshells. We are not about to see them together again. And with the IOC too it is very tense. Moreover, in 2014, during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Russian head of state had put himself forward enormously. He has always cultivated his image as a superhuman sportsman, with hockey, judo, but also by being shirtless in front of bears. It all falls apart today. »
On the spot, the sport tries to resist, but the impact of the Ukrainian conflict is still felt. Sports Journalist. Ru, Valerie Lee sees a loss of audience since the start of the invasion. “Russian sport in general has been held back by what is happening in Ukraine and its future looks vague. Obviously, it is the results of Russian athletes and teams that arouse the most interest among our audience. We are seeing a drop in traffic in sports where Russians are now banned. With their backs to the wall, Moscow’s representatives are trying to find answers that do not provide convincing solutions: alternative competitions with allied countries, such as Belarus and China, are mentioned in particular, but the sponsors are not jostling.
For Kévin Veyssière, these attempts have so far remained unsuccessful: “They organized their own Paralympic Games with friendly countries following their exclusion in February. They can organize this type of competition with a national scope, but outside the country, it is difficult to have visibility. What can change this situation is necessarily the end of the conflict. It remains to be seen how long afterwards it will take to reintegrate Russia. Two, three or four years… it’s hard to say. “However, Moscow is still trying to exist in the field of sport, with its candidacies to host Euro 2028 or 2032. But, in early May, UEFA withdrew these files because of the Ukrainian conflict.
Same story with his compatriot Andrey Rublev, who wrote “No War” (“no to war”) on a camera after a victory in Dubai last February. For Lukas Aubin, this situation is a real trap for Russian players, from which it is difficult to extricate themselves. “It’s an insoluble problem: athletes are tools of this Russian sports policy. Even if they take a stand against the war, they cannot take a stand against the Russian state as such. Putin’s system is authoritarian, it is extremely difficult for a Russian sportsman to oppose it head-on: he would put himself, his family and his career in danger. »
Denounce without risking reprisals, a dangerous balancing act for Russian athletes. But Valerie Lee qualifies this observation: “Tennis players are quite independent and cosmopolitan in their careers and their way of thinking, I would say. Rublev and Pavlyuchenkova made anti-war statements, Medvedev also spoke about this. State propaganda focuses on other subjects than a group of athletes. And in his work as a sports journalist, the daily difficulties are also present. “For us, the media, it’s a different story. We are really legally limited by what we can and cannot write about war. For example, we cannot call this a war. Thus, transcribing someone’s words can be risky for us if we want to continue working. So we have to be creative. »
Nonetheless, the sport is known for bonding across borders and tensions. Will Russia be able to benefit? “It’s too early to tell,” says Lukas Aubin. It can go very quickly in both directions, sport can be used to re-establish connections. Russia is counting on a form of Western weariness, after the conquest of the Donbass, but at present a comeback thanks to sports competitions is not on the agenda. Confirmation if there was any doubt that Medvedev