Excluded from the world of sport, Russia prepares its response

One could believe it with the invitation launched a few days ago by Oleg Matytsin, during an interview with the Russian sports dailies Soviet sport and Sport Express. The Russian Minister of Sports invited the countries friends of Russia in a major competition.

Next July, we will organize the National University Games, the Russian Universiade. When we talk about friendly countriesone can logically think of Belarus and China, or of former Soviet republics such as Kazakhstan. This invitation issued by Russia looks like a direct response to the sanctions imposed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and by the international federations.

The gesture of Minister Matytsin is however far from trivial when we revisit history a little. Radio-Canada Sports spoke about it with Jean Lévesque, professor of history at the University of Quebec in Montreal.

In 1922, the USSR placed sport at the heart of communist ideology. We then want to show a new Soviet man. In 1928, the USSR wanted to dissociate itself from the Olympic movement, which was considered too bourgeois and capitalist, and created its own Games, the Spartakiades.

It is said that this name was chosen to recall the story of the famous slave Spartacus, who had rebelled against the Roman Republic. At the time, we therefore wanted to move away from bourgeois sport and above all to talk about sport in connection with public health, as Jean Lévesque explains.

In 1924, we will create the Internationale du sport rouge to go against capitalist sport, without bourgeois values, he explains. At the time, the Soviets were not really in the spirit of international competition. They are more in the spirit of public health by offering a healthy model to the population. They will therefore decide to compete between “comrades”. This affiliation with the Red Sport International will allow another model. We are therefore going to organize the first Spartakiads in Moscow, where communists from all countries will be able to participate.

So the invitation issued by the Russian Minister of Sports to the countries friends is it a response to the IOC and the international federations? Yes and no, according to Jean Lévesque.

In the medium or long term, the Russians will want to reintegrate into the fold of world sport. But they are indeed communication specialists, and sometimes you have to read between the lines of the messages they want to send. I have the impression that the Russians may be preparing to create a coalition with the BRICS countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, to dislodge the CIO from its monopoly Western in its decisions.

They will also try to influence the re-election of Thomas Bach who, until the invasion of Ukraine, had been kind to the Russians, continues Mr. Lévesque. We could therefore witness a group of “friendly” countries which could stand up and change the rules of the major international sports bodies. Imagine the power that this bloc would have, with the Russians associated with the powerful Chinese, which could easily thwart the traditional influence of the West in the Olympic movement.

Joined in France by Radio-Canada Sports, the lecturer at the University of Nantes Sylvain Dufraisse is also of this opinion.

The message from the Russian Sports Minister is a message to international bodies to tell them that the exclusion or distancing of Russians could lead to parallel organizations, he underlines. We want, by this message, to push for negotiation with the IOC and international organizations so that they reconsider their decision.

For Sylvain Dufraisse, the invitation issued to friendly countries less reminiscent of the 1928 Spartakiad than another major sporting event that was organized during the boycott of the Los Angeles Games in the 1980s.

In 1984, the Russians used the facilities of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow to organize the “Friendship Games”, he recalls. These Games were a response to the non-participation in the Los Angeles Games. We then invited the allied states – the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Vietnam – but we also brought together athletes from Afghanistan, Argentina, Algeria and even France.

We therefore see here the same logical sequence, he adds. When the Russians are faced with an impediment to participate, we will rush to organize a parallel competition as an answer. Russia therefore resumes an old attitude of the Soviet Union. We can therefore see in Oleg Matytsin’s gesture a desire to propose a new geography of the international sports world by relying on his allies.

But the IOC does not like this type of confrontation and it has shown it throughout history. One of the great tactics of the IOC is to avoid any contrary attitude which could harm it. We can therefore expect a way out of the crisis and that the IOC and the international federations will find a new compromise to once again bring together the world of sport under an apolitical banner. »

A quote from Sylvain Dufraisse, lecturer at the University of Nantes

Russia seems unaware that the sports world has banned her and she continues to act as if nothing has happened. She recently applied for the organization of the Euro soccer 2028 or 2032. And as if that were not enough, she would also consider submitting an application to host the World Handball Championships for 2029 or 2031, jointly with China.

If Russia does not prepare a response, it looks very much like it.

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