Kanter: War not understood the same way as in Estonia elsewhere

Russian judoka Sabina Giliyazova (blue) at the Doha WC.
Russian judoka Sabina Giliyazova (blue) at the Doha WC. Source: SCANPIX/AP

The International Judo Federation decided last week to allow Russian and Belarusian judokas to participate in the world championships in Doha. Gerd Kanter, head of the athletes commission of the Estonian Olympic Committee (EOK), told Vikerraadio that athletes of aggressor states should not be allowed to participate until steps leading to peace are taken.

Kanter said that it has been the trend at the International Olympic Committee for some time to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete again. The IOC human rights report pointed out that athletes should not be discriminated against based on their passport. At the same time, it is the clear position of the EOK and sports representatives in the region that until the war has not entered a phase of peace, Russian and Belarusian athletes should be barred from international sports, he said.

While Estonia judokas are unlikely to meet Russian and Belarusian athletes on the tatami at the championships that kicked off on Sunday, the Estonian Judo Federation is discussing potential meetings and what Estonian athletes should do in such situations.

Kanter said that because precious Olympic points are up for grabs, he does not recommend refusing to compete. "But it is clear that if someone feels on the personal and ethical levels that it is not appropriate, there will be no financial punishment for refusing to compete," the former Olympic champion said.

Seventeen Russian and two Belarusian judokas are taking part in the world championships. The International Judo Federation has blocked eight Russian athletes from participating.

Ukrainian authorities said in late March that their athletes will not take part in those competitions that serve as Paris Olympics qualifiers where Russian athletes are participating. Ukrainian judokas also skipped the world cup in Doha.

Politicians and governments have no sway over sports associations

Sports ministers and top officials of 37 countries released a joint statement last Thursday according to which Russia, which has violated the Olympic peace on two occasions, cannot be allowed to use sports as a way to justify the Ukraine war. Estonia also joined the statement.

But politicians and governments have no power over international sports associations. "Talking about international sports associations, we have seen disciplines where Russian money or influence have been greater return sooner," Kanter said.

The head of the EOK athletes body said that a series of disciplines where Russian athletes have returned, albeit under a neutral flag and in individual sports, have been associated with support from Russia.

The IOC published a list of recommendations in late March urging international sports associations and event organizers to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to take part as individual contesters. It was said that athletes with links to Russian armed forces or other state security organizations must not be allowed to attend.

Gerd Kanter said that there are very few Russian athletes with absolutely no ties to security organs. "Most athletes have gotten their start from that system, and distancing oneself now and suggesting one has nothing to do with it seems logically impossible. While different agencies have been commissioned to ascertain such ties, they are not easy to find. It would be simpler to make no exceptions and await developments in the war," Kanter suggested.

He added that the accreditation and results of athletes who make pro-war statements at major competitions can be revoked.

Russia using professional sports to justify the war

"We know that sports have played a key role in Russia, with top athletes skillfully harnessed in the service of the national image. There is a thing called "PutinTeam" made up of well-known athletes, used to decorate Russia and who serve as its ambassadors," Kanter explained.

The movement includes NHL star Alexander Ovechkin, pole vault Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva and Eurovision winner Dima Bilan.

"People from our region understand the situation the best. But moving to Western Europe or other continents, it [the war] is no longer understood as we understand it," Kanter said.

The EOK official said that Russian athletes will not be able to participate in athletics competition because of the war and earlier doping offenses.

He said that when deciding whether to allow athletes to partake in competitions, it should also be considered how their status might change with that of the war. "What will happen in case of escalation, whether the status of athletes changes when the war changes."

Kanter also said that several organizers have decided to cancel events after international associations have allowed Russian athletes to compete. For example, Germany has canceled two fencing world cup events.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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