Thus, at the beginning of the year, the pillar of political neutrality had begun to show some cracks.Footnote 12 However, no one would have predicted that it would effectively crumble within the span of a few days after holding up the edifice of sports for more than a century. On Thursday February 24, 2022, Russia, aided by Belarus, invaded Ukraine. Sports stakeholders reacted to this with unprecedented speed and determination. The actions taken are too numerous to list, and still unfolding, but a few examples are in order.
The very next day following the invasion, on February 25, the Executive Board of the IOC recommended that all International Sports Federations (ISFs) and event organizers prohibit all Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in competitions,Footnote 13 and on Monday, February 28, UEFA removed Spartak Moscow from the Europa League. A number of ISFs have followed suit and banned Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from participating in competitions, including the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), the International Skiing Federation (FIS), the International Biathlon Union (IBU), the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), and the International Skating Union (ISU).
Some of the actions in response to the invasions were taken with obvious reluctance on behalf of the SGBs, and clearly as a response to external pressures emanating from other sports stakeholders and the general public. For example, on Sunday, February 27, FIFA announced that the Russian football association, FUR, would be allowed to continue to participate in competitions, albeit with no home games and not under the Russian flag.Footnote 14 However, the football associations of Poland, Czech Republic and Sweden, who were scheduled to play Russia in the qualifier for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, jointly declared that they refused to play Russia. In response, FIFA overturned its decisions the very next day and suspended Russia.Footnote 15 Similarly, on Thursday, March 3, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) decided to bar all Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, overturning its own decision of the day before that the athletes would be allowed to compete under a neutral flag, citing as the reason for its changed decision multiple federations’ threats to otherwise boycott the games.Footnote 16
In connection with most of these measures the responsible SGBs have made it clear that actions are taken in support of Ukraine and intend to help expedite an end to the armed conflict. Thus it is clear that the suspensions are intended to serve as sanctions on Russia and Belarus, complementary and similar in kind to those implemented by states and international organizations.
However, actions taken in response to the invasion have not been limited to suspensions; sports stakeholders have also taken actions more closely related to the commercial aspect of sports and by terminating contractual obligations.Footnote 17 For example, immediately following the invasion, UEFA decided to move the 2022 Champions League final from St. Petersburg to Paris,Footnote 18 and FIA cancelled the 2022 Russian Grand Prix.Footnote 19 UEFA has also cancelled its sponsorship agreement with Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom,Footnote 20 the FIA permanently cancelled its agreement with the Russian Grand Prix,Footnote 21 one Formula 1 team terminated its contracts with a Russian driver,Footnote 22 and FIFA has granted foreign players and coaches employed by Russian clubs a unilateral right to suspend their employment contracts.Footnote 23 Some of these actions are arguably at least partially motivated by security concerns, but they also have a clear punitive character, similar to suspensions.
These types of measures are not completely without precedent. For example, Germany and Japan were not allowed to compete in the 1948 Olympic Games as a result of their roles in World War II. However, any comparison to previous actions is at best weak. The recent actions against Russia, and to a lesser extent Belarus, are substantially different in terms of scope and strength. They are taken in the middle of and in response to an on-going conflict. Moreover, they are clearly intended to function as sanctions and are thereby effectively part of a package of sanctions that includes state-based sanctions of a political and economic nature. This form of interference in geopolitics is much deeper than, for example, FIFA speaking out against human rights abuses in Qatar.