A rising number of calls for relaxing the international competition ban on athletes from the Russian Federation and from Russia's ally, Belarus, need to be seen in the context of sports politics and the relationship between the chiefs of some sports, notably amateur boxing, and need not lead to a wholesale readmission of sportspeople from the two countries on to the international arena, for as long as the invasion of Ukraine continues, ERR's Juhan Kilumets says.
Appearing on ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade" Monday, Kilumets noted that a recent decision by the International Boxing Association (IBA), one of several of the sport's international bodies, to allow Russian and Belarusian boxers to compete under their own national flag, need not be rolled out in the sports world in general, given the IBA leadership's links to the Russian regime.
Kilumets said: "What is happening with the IBA should be treated as a special case. The president of the IBA is a very good friend of [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin, and for some time now the IBA has not been allowed to organize qualification tournaments for the Olympic Games. They suspended Ukraine's membership, while competitors from Russia and Belarus were allowed back. This IBA is a sub-union, one which cannot be taken seriously."
In general is should be up to individual countries to decide whether to allow Russian competitors into their own events or not, Kilumets went on.
"Each country has the right to decide whether Russians can compete or not. For instance, drivers from Russia and Belarus were not invited to WRC Rally Estonia. It was the right of the Estonian state to decide things this way, and no one could say anything to oppose that," he said.
As to International Olympic Committee chair Thomas Bach, a man who recently chastised olympic representatives from Denmark for referring to Russian sportspeople as "Russians", and his calls for a gradual re-admission of Russian and Belarusian competitors, Kilumts said he: "Has increasingly made it clear that we have to quietly come to terms with this idea. Athletes from Russia and Belarus will come back at some point, it will happen in any case, but the question is one of timing. We are saying all this at a time when there is nothing in the military situation which has changed. Russia continues its military activities in exactly the same way, and therefore it is a completely justified question, to ask, what has changed up to now?"
This was a transformation on the situation in spring, he noted, when the IOC barred Russian and Belarusian athletes from competition.
"The unity of the sports world is no longer what it was in winter or spring. At that time, the IOC made a very strong statement, to the surprise of many, when they gave instructions to organizations not to allow athletes from Russia or Belarus into international competitions. Unfortunately, the months have passed, fatigue has set in, people get used to the situation, and this has also happened in sports – where more and more restless voices are heard, and these voices have also reached the most important corridors at the IOC," Kilumets went on.
As for other sports, Kilumets noted, while some sports such as international tennis have been strict in banning Russian competitors from playing under their own flag and national anthem (they can still often compete as neutrals – ed.) others have been more open, especially for Belarusian sportspeople – while Judo, a sport Putin himself has an interest in, gives both Russian and Belarusian judoka a virtual free-hand to enter.
This is more the exception than the norm, however, Kilumets said.
Bach had recently come under fire for saying that while sanctions should continue to apply to Russia and Belarus, those countries' sportspeople should be differentiated from the Putin and Lukashenko regimes.
This does not mean that Bach is in the Kremlin's pocket, however, Kilumets said, though he does enjoy warm relations with Putin – who was reportedly first in line to congratulate him upon becoming IOC chief in 2013, a warmth in evidence in the following year's Sochi Winter Olympics - and has business interests in the country, more specifically a woodworking equipment firm, Kilumets said, adding that relations had cooled somewhat this year.
Kalle Klandorf, Center Party politician and head of the Estonian boxing association (Eesti Poksiliit) recently said his organization was in the dark about whether Russian and Belarusian boxers might be admitted, as neutrals at least, following the IBA announcement.
The IBA's decision also has wider implications for amateur boxing and the olympics, as there will be no boxing events at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics while a new qualifying system will be put in place for the 2024 Paris games, Kilumets noted.
Editor: Andrew Whyte