Thursday, December 15, 2016 at 8:26 AM

Athletes Boycotting more Effective than Countries Sanctioning Rogue Russia

Posted by Anthony L. Hall


Western countries have been sanctioning Russia for years. Their aim has been to punish it for everything from launching military incursions into neighboring countries (e.g., Georgia and Ukraine/Crimea) to assassinating political dissidents (e.g., Boris Nemtsov and Alexander Litvinenko).

Unfortunately, sanctions have done little to curtail Russia’s rogue behavior. Nothing attests to this quite like:

  • The way it hacked Democratic operatives and interfered in this year’s U.S. presidential election.
  • The diabolical role it’s playing in “Syria’s meltdown of humanity.”
  • Forbes naming its president, Vladimir Putin, the most powerful man in the world in this week’s signature issue.

usa-security-snowden-putinIncidentally, one of my pet peeves is the patent unfairness inherent in Forbes’ annual ranking. After all, it’s absurd to compare the unchecked, invariably nefarious power a despotic leader wields with the checked, invariably salutary power a democratic leader exercises. Henceforth I suggest separate rankings: one for the most powerful democrat and one for most powerful despot. But I digress….

The point is that the inefficacy of sanctions provoked me to propose the following years ago as the only way to punish Russia and its macho, sports-obsessed president:

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) should enlist the governing bodies of all major sports to ban Russia from hosting any sanctioned competition, so long as Putin remains in power. Because, no matter their representations, officials in Putin’s Russia will never implement the reforms WADA deems are necessary to eradicate systemic doping…

Nothing would [be more effective in this respect] than FIFA withdrawing Russia’s highly coveted hosting gig for the 2018 World Cup.

(“In Putin’s Russia Even Athletics Is a Criminal (Doping) Enterprise,” November 9, 2015)

14doping-superjumboThis is why I was so heartened on Tuesday when I read this:

International sports officials, facing a potential boycott by athletes upset over the Russian doping scandal, have decided to move bobsled and skeleton world championships out of Russia next year.

The move was announced on Tuesday by the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association, the organizer of the event, which was set to take place in Sochi in February. The organization plans to name a new site in the coming days.

(New York Times, December 13, 2016)

I applaud athletes who compete in bobsled and skeleton for initiating this boycott. I urge athletes who compete in all other sports to do likewise, namely, force their respective governing bodies to either ban Russia from hosting or face boycotts. They should do this for the sake not just of clean sport but our shared humanity.

Meanwhile, I am constrained to reiterate that, despite clear and compelling evidence, Russia is still categorically denying any state involvement in doping — even challenging its accusers to prove it. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Russia is still categorically denying any state involvement in hacking — even challenging its accusers to prove it. Of course, its denial in both cases is about as infuriating as catching your child in the kitchen with cookie crumbs all over his face and having him deny that he even touched the cookie jar.

The problem is that, on the one hand, punishing a country with nuclear weapons poses far greater challenges than punishing a child with sticky fingers, while on the other hand, the categorical imperative of punishing the former is far greater than latter case.

Related commentaries:
Putin’s Russia

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