War isn’t just about killing innocent people, it’s also about big business. The Russian invasion of Ukraine illustrates the effects of war with unprecedented social, cultural, political and sporting isolation of the Russian people.
The Moscow political class, led by President Vladimir Putin and his cronies, including the oligarchs, is under attack. Russian oligarchs stole wealth for many years, which they then profit from in Europe and America. So why only act now?
I grew up in apartheid South Africa and was influenced by the anti-racist activism of Hassan Howa, who coined the phrase “There can be no normal sport in an abnormal society”. I would paraphrase Howa by saying that there can be no normal sport in an abnormal world. Big money rules all sports, it seems, and politics is no longer alien to sport, as the governing bodies of many sports once said.
The best tennis player, Daniil Medvedev, is a Russian citizen. He has come under pressure from the British government and the establishment to denounce Putin after the invasion of Ukraine if he wants to play Wimbledon this year. Medvedev has repeatedly said he wants to “promote peace”, but that’s not enough for Boris Johnson and his cronies. Former MP George Galloway called it a crime as no other player in any sport was asked to condemn his own government. He stressed that this was not required of American and British athletes whose governments, in violation of international law, invaded Iraq in 2003 and “killed millions of Iraqis”.
This is an example of the double standard and hypocrisy that events in Ukraine have exposed. Of course, ordinary people warmly supported the victims of aggression in Ukraine. However, at the official and governmental level, the hypocrisy is blatant.
Continuing with sport, let’s look at European football’s governing body, UEFA, and the English Premier League and Spanish La Liga, both of which have global television coverage. English football clubs played and wore Ukrainian colors for a weekend, but players and fans from other countries were censored by UEFA and world governing body FIFA when they protested their support for the Palestinian victims of Israeli aggression and occupation.
The match between Real Madrid and Barcelona carried the slogan ‘Stop the invasion’, yet neither team had any qualms playing in Saudi Arabia in January, winning huge sums while turning a blind eye to the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Yemeni citizens at the hands of the Saudi-led coalition. Amnesty International has denounced that this collaboration between the Spanish Football Federation and the Riyadh regime “bleached” the image of the Saudi authorities, but UEFA, FIFA and other sports organizations, as well as political leaders, remained quiet. Now they have found their voice, apparently because Ukrainians are more worthy victims of war than others. And they acted quickly.
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In record time after the February 24 invasion, Russian athletes were expelled from almost all sports tournaments. Even judoka Putin has been stripped of his honorary status by the sport’s governing body. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) issued a statement on March 1 announcing “the immediate suspension of the Russian Tennis Federation (RTF)”. Here in South Africa, Russia have been banned from the FIH Junior Women’s Hockey World Cup, which takes place in Potchefstroom.
Other sports have followed suit, including archery, badminton, baseball, taekwondo, triathlon and volleyball. FIFA has suspended Gazprom’s Russian sponsorship of the UEFA Champions League. The Europeans, meanwhile, continue to get oil and gas from Russia. Russian footballers weren’t so lucky when they couldn’t face Poland in a FIFA World Cup qualifier, ending any hopes of reaching the final in Qatar more late this year.
It’s a cliché that sports and media are linked at the hip, but in the modern age, one cannot survive without the other. Sport is a marketing tool for all sorts of products, with media advertising and sponsorship taking center stage. The general convention before the Russian invasion of Ukraine was that sport should stay away from politics and causes that could harm the possibility of earning money. However, mainstream sports-related media have openly displayed their pro-Ukrainian bias. Even the Ukrainians’ right to resistance has been defended, while the same media condemns legitimate Palestinian resistance as “terrorism”.
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After South Africa’s SAfm sports news published the story of a former Ukrainian tennis player trained to shoot – “I can hit my head three out of five from 25 yards in training”, s boasted Alexandr Dolgopolov – I called and asked the presenter whether this right to resist, which I support, and advertising was given only to Ukrainians. Would a similar story air about a Palestinian athlete training to resist the Israeli occupation – a right enshrined in international law – or would the broadcaster gloss over such a story, fearing a backlash from a lobbyist? known ?
Along the same lines, CNN carried the impassioned statement of Ukrainian tennis star Elina Svitolina, who told the world live that “all the money I earn at the Monterrey Open will go to the military. Ukrainian”.
In general, dissenting voices struggle to be heard. While Turkey, a Muslim NATO member, supports Ukrainian war victims, former international footballer Aykut Demir, captain and central defender of BB Erzurumspor, who plays in Turkey’s football elite, refused to wear a jersey denouncing the Russian invasion. . His reason was simple: the lack of attention to the fighting in the Middle East, particularly the war in Yemen, where a UN report released last year said nearly 380,000 children, women and men had been killed. ; millions have been displaced.
Russian oligarchs are also linked to big sports. In 2019, Forbes reported that Roman Abramovich’s net worth was around $12.9 billion. He is said to be related to Vladimir Putin. He bought English football club Chelsea in 2003, since then he has won 18 trophies, including two Champions League titles, five Premier League championships and, most recently, the 2022 Club World Cup.
The British government sanctioned Abramovich and froze his ownership of Chelsea FC, but he still has his supporters. Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Sheba Medical Center director Yitshak Kreiss have urged the United States not to impose sanctions on the oligarch because he is a major donor to Zionist causes. According to David Klion, editor of Jewish Currents, this amounts to more than $500 million donated to various Jewish organizations and causes.
Abramovich has Israeli citizenship and is said to be the second richest man in the occupying state. Klion ended his article titled “Our Oligarch” by quoting a 2020 BBC Arabic investigation, which found that “Abramovich used front companies registered in the British Virgin Islands to donate over $100 million to a right-wing Israeli organization called the Ir David Foundation, commonly referred to as Elad”. This organization has worked since the 1980s to move Jewish settlers to occupied East Jerusalem. He also controls “an archaeological park and major tourist site called the City of David, which he exploited in his efforts to ‘Judaize’ the area, including seizing Palestinian homes in the surrounding neighborhood of Silwan and digging under some of them. to make them uninhabitable.” Elad did not appear to respond to Klion’s request for comment.
Such is the caliber of a major figure in the English Premier League, but neither the League nor the British government have ever imposed sanctions for Abramovich’s involvement in funding illegal Israeli settlement projects. Just to be Russian and friend of Vladimir Putin.
The House of Saud, meanwhile, was going about its own bloody business while all of this was going on, executing 81 people in a single day on March 12. The Saudi Public Investment Fund, it will be recalled, received the green light from the English Premier League last year to buy an 80% stake in Newcastle United Football Club. UEFA has taken no action against the team or players following the latest mass execution by the Saudi government. According to one newspaper,[el entrenador del Newcastle] Eddie Howe revealed he was “well aware” of the mass executions taking place in Saudi Arabia.” That’s it.
READ: Ukraine offers an opportunity for peace in Europe and beyond its borders
So when UEFA withdrew Spartak Moscow from the Europa League in response to Russian aggression and pushed the Champions League final away from St Petersburg, the governing body was not playing; it was a hypocritical policy.
But all this is new. Former Egyptian football team captain Mohamed Aboutrika received a yellow card in 2009 for displaying a shirt with “Sympathize with Gaza” written in Arabic and English when he scored a goal. The referee respected the rules of the game, which prohibit religious and political slogans during the matches, even if it was a call for human solidarity. Aboutrika was duly sanctioned by FIFA.
In contrast, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and FIFA did nothing about Ghanaian footballer John Paintsil for waving the Israeli flag after a team-mate’s goal against the Czech Republic in the 2006 World Cup. It was blatant propaganda because Israel did not qualify for the tournament.
It was before, it is now. It seems solidarity in sport is okay, as long as you support the “right” people and the cause.
“No one should ever accept any killing in the world, any oppression,” Egyptian Ali Amr Farag said recently. “But we were never allowed to talk about politics in sport, but suddenly now it’s allowed. So now that we’re allowed, I hope people will notice the oppression in the world as well.”
“I mean, the Palestinians have been going through this for 74 years and, well, I guess because it doesn’t fit the western media narrative, we can’t talk about it. But now that we can talk about Ukraine, we can talk about the Palestinians, so please keep that in mind.
The reigning world squash champion’s comment was made after a match and his remarks have been removed from official records. He supported the wrong side in a world dominated by hypocrisy. However, he joins hundreds of elite athletes who stood up against injustice when it was neither cool nor easy. There can be no normal sport in an abnormal world.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of East Monitor.