|The three largest military offensives by Putin have been during the Olympic Truce, meaning he has taken advantage of it to galvanize national sentiment in order to break international law. The International Paralympic Committee should take a strong stance and expel Russia and Belarus from the 2022 Paralympic Games.|
Russian sportspeople are also Russian citizens, with the rights and obligations that it demands. This means that as subjects of a repressive state such as the Russian Federation, they are also at risk when exercising freedom of speech.
Perhaps some (maybe even the majority) of Russian sportspeople oppose the outrageous invasion of the Russian Federation into Ukraine but they are handcuffed from expressing their views, as it would literally be risky. Same with the Belarusians, opposing their government, which has aided the Russian regime in this invasion.
The crux of the issue whether to suspend Russian sportspeople or not lay in the affectation to individuals and their livelihoods for something they cannot control -the actions of their government-, against the international pressure against the regime, including isolating it from cultural phenomena that they could use for propaganda purposes.
Russia is big in and into sports. That has been the case with different regimes and political or economic systems. Sport is embedded into Russian culture. It has been used as a source of propaganda by politicians. There is also studied evidence that positive sporting results correlate to the increasing popularity of political leaders.
The Russian and Belarusian flags and names should not be displayed at the international moment while their country is invading another one. This has been widely accepted by the international community and sporting organizations.
Now the debate is whether to suspend Russian and Belarusian sportspeople altogether, even if they were to use a neutral flag. This would generally be a fair discussion where both sides would have sound arguments.
One can argue that it is not the sportspeople’s fault, or also that actually they could become voices against the war, pressuring the government -although it is unclear if they would outright be able to criticize its regime’s leadership-; against the fact that even without a flag their sporting results could be used as a form of propaganda, and that since people care about sports, it would make it more likely that they pressure their government if they want Russians and Belarusians back on international sports.
But there is a particular nuance that makes this situation even worse: the attack happened during the time of the Olympic truce.
For centuries, during the Ancient Olympic games, the participating city-states respected the ékécheiria, as a period where they would lie down their arms and allow safe passage to the games before, during, and after their edition.
In 1992, the International Olympic Committee retook the concept for the modern games, and in 1993 the United Nations Resolution 48/11 of 25 October 1993 adopted it, to be observed from before the Olympic Games to until after the Paralympic Games.
Russia broke the Olympic truce by attacking a day after the conclusion of the Olympic Games. This is the third time Vladimir Putin’s Russia does it. Previously it happened when his forces invaded Georgia on the same day of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games opening ceremony, and in 2014 when they annexed Crimea during the closing days of their own Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
This talks about a premeditated plan to utilize the Olympic truce and to abuse and violate an international convention in order to violate human rights and international law. At this point the previous discussion about fairness against sportspeople becomes secondary.
If the Olympic Truce means anything, it is more than ever a time to enforce its meaning, and expel representatives of a country that has violated it, especially repeatedly. It is not their fault, but they are still part of the regime. And they are funded by that regime to compete. Because it is convenient for the regime.
It will continue to be convenient as long as they are given a pass. The International Paralympic Committee decides the fate of the Russian and Belarusian participation at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Games in a few hours. They should follow the dozens of international sporting organizations that have suspended the participation of their representatives.