The sport of war: when should action be taken?
Ever since the birth of mankind, it has wanted to do two things: kill each other and beat each other. So it is only natural that sport and war have an inextricable link that goes beyond the boundaries of normal international politics.
But in the twenty-first century, the question of when should sporting bodies act during times of war is an intriguing one and one which has come under the spotlight in recent days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine eight days ago.
Since then, the Champions League Final has been relocated, the Russian Grand Prix has not only been cancelled this year but for the foreseeable future as well as the suspension of Russia and Belarus competing in the World Cup, Russian and Belarussian tennis players have been forced to compete under a neutral status and most notably Russian and Belarussian athletes have been sent home from the 2022 Winter Olympics.
But in the context of sport, the questions we should all ask ourselves is whether the response is proportionate and whether the same or similar actions would happen if there was a similar conflict elsewhere in the world?
First, the conflict in Ukraine is horrific and similar to conflicts in size and scale to that of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. The war is completely unjustified and predicated on a false belief that Russia has rightful ownership of Ukraine and that Ukraine is part of the sovereign nation of Russia.
The response from the western world has been based on decimating Russia’s economy by sanctioning their financial assets and now individuals as well as the seizing of Russian assets.
This links directly with sport as the international economic model of sport is dependent on open global business everywhere. However, if one country/countries are being effectively isolated, then from a selfish point of view, there is not much operating there.
As such, political decisions taken by sporting bodies are a direct response to the economic sanctions of the west as well as their own political calculations.
The other crucial and thorny issue is whether other countries would be sanctioned in this way? Which wars would be sanctioned and which would not be sanctioned by sporting bodies?
The fact remains that there are wars carried out by countries all over the world causing death and destruction to millions.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have facilitated untold misery in the initial war, the reconstruction followed by multiple airstrikes in Iraq and Syria by the US and her allies.
But despite the untold misery, there was no banning of US and British athletes and no sanctioning in the way seen in Russia. Regardless of the politics, if wars are seen as legitimate things of intervention, who determines when that is and is not the case?
In an increasingly globalised world, who are truly pulling the strings of power of sport?