While many object to the sports boycott against Russia, saying it is politically motivated, others recognise that sports have been interlinked with politics throughout history.

The recent boycotts against Russia by sports organisations, urged by the Western leaders, are meant to punish Russia and President Vladimir Putin over the offensive on Ukraine. 

Putin has a passion for many sports, such as judo, mountain skiing, hiking, and even diving. Sport is an important part of his personal life as well as his policy. He uses sports to solidify his position at home and present himself as a respectable world leader.

Using international sports events to restore his country's global standing in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, Putin played a direct role in lobbying members of the IOC and FIFA so Russia could host the Winter Olympics in 2014 and the Men's World Cup in 2018, heralding Russia's return to the top rank of advanced nations.

The boycotts by sports organisations are taking away one of Putin's reliable political tools and further isolating him internationally, but athletes from Russia are also paying the price. 

Double standards

“We have seen the Western double standards on full display the most the last few weeks. FIFA and UEFA, which control global and continental football in Europe respectively, went from hedging about the war to an outright suspension of all Russian national and club teams from its competitions,” said Sean Jacobs, Associate Professor of International Affairs at The New School.

“Anyone familiar with FIFA, or any of the other global sports bodies known for their reticence to punish Russia, was thrown for a surprise. Just last month, the IOC, which organises the Olympics, allowed Russia to compete despite its national teams openly using banned substances to increase their chances of winning,” Jacobs explained.

“FIFA has rarely acted against rogue states, especially ones who illegally occupy and oppress others such as the US and its various invasions and occupations in the past, India in Kashmir, and Israel over the Palestinians. Israel’s case is one that hits closer to home for European football: Israel is a member of UEFA.”

In 2009, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) fined Mali striker Frederic Kanoute for revealing a T-shirt expressing support for Palestine during a match.

Kanoute's action, which has been interpreted as a response to Israel's attacks on Gaza that have killed hundreds of Palestinians, was met with a yellow card from the referee.

In the same year, Egyptian footballer Mohammad Abu Trika lifted his shirt to reveal a message on his t-shirt underneath. "Sympathise With Gaza" was his way to celebrate a goal against Sudan in an African Cup match. FIFA gave him an official warning and insisted that it has a strict ban on such "political" statements.

However, footballers around the world are showing their solidarity with Ukraine. FIFA has praised them, rather than warning them about mixing politics with sport.

FIFA has reiterated its condemnation of Russias’s use of force in its incursion into Ukraine, saying “Violence is never a solution and FIFA expresses its deepest solidarity to all people affected by what is happening in Ukraine.”

FIFA has never criticised Israel for its military attacks against civilians and even sports and football facilities in Palestine, or for the arrest of football players. 

READ MORE: FIFA kicks Russia out of 2022 World Cup

Not only in football

Just a few months ago, the International Judo Federation (IJF) suspended two athletes for 10 years for refusing to compete with an Israeli in last summer’s Tokyo Olympics in protest of Israel’s violations against Palestinians.
Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine forfeited an elimination match that would have potentially put him up against an Israeli competitor. His Sudanese counterpart in the elimination match, Mohamed Abdalrasool, also refused to compete against the Israeli.
The organisation accused the pair of having “malicious intent” and said that their “protest and promotion of political and religious propaganda” at the Olympics was “a clear and serious breach of the IJF Statutes.” 


“When Palestinians ask the world to impose [a] sporting boycott on Israel’s barbaric apartheid regime, we’re told sport has nothing to do with politics.” Ali Abunimah tweeted. “Iranian athletes who refuse to play teams from Israel, which carries out terror attacks and assassinations on their soil, are penalised.”

Abunimah continued, “By contrast, refusing to play Russia is seen as the natural and correct position. This tells us that those same countries/sports bodies who refuse to boycott Israel are not “neutral” or “apolitical,” but emphatically support Israel’s apartheid and persecution against Palestinians.”

Other people on social media reacted to the sports boycotts against Russia, saying that such decisions are subjected by the West and are not neutral.

“In the past, they said keep sports away from politics, but today they are punishing Russia through sports. In the past, they were with press freedom and the other opinion, but today Russian media is banned and internet speed is being reduced.” Ameer Thiqar tweeted.

“In the past, any military mobilisation for fighting in another country are called militias, but now embassies open to mobilise fighters. It’s the Western Hypocrisy,” Thiqar added. 

The 1936 Olympics in Berlin were a propaganda coup for the Nazis.
The 1936 Olympics in Berlin were a propaganda coup for the Nazis. (Twitter/@tkzox)

Continuous debate

Other commentators and activists on social media said it is unrealistic to divide sports from politics highlighting how businessmen close to rulers buy football clubs.

Faris Althunyan tweeted, “It’s beyond imagination that conditions will force Roman Abramovich to sell the club that he built and contributed to its renaissance. Chelsea club was revived during Abramovich’s era.”

Some social media users interested in sports gave examples that showed sports and politics clearly interlinked throughout history. During Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936, the Nazi regime tried to support its racist agenda.

Another example is the western boycott of the Olympics Games in Moscow in 1980 to protest the Soviets’ invasion to Afghanistan.

More sports-related sanctions seem to come as Russia continues its offensive in Ukraine, which means the debate over the link between sports and politics would continue. 

READ MORE: The world of art and sports mobilise against Russia’s invasion

Source: TRTWorld and agencies