► “Penalize Russia, but not the athletes”
Vincent Chaudel, sports economist, co-founder of the firm In & Sport and the Observatory of sport business
“The political dimension of sport is obviously important. The Pierre de Coubertin spirit resided in taking advantage of sport so that there were clashes between countries, but peaceful clashes. Hence the principle of the Olympic truce which dates back to the Greeks. During the ancient Olympics, there was no war. The idea was to say “sport must allow confrontation between nations, according to rules”. Suddenly, the strength of sport is to allow a match between the United States and Iran, as was the case during the last FIFA World Cup in Qatar. It is to see Palestinians confronting Israelis. This is where the power of sport lies.
I am not in favor of a boycott of Russian athletes, as it stands. Even if I understand the state of mind at the moment and the importance of the struggle that the Ukrainians are waging against the Russian invader, as well as all the support of European countries for Ukraine, I think that depriving yourself of the lever of sport is not a good idea. On the other hand, I think that the sanction which had been imposed on Russia, at the Tokyo Games, in connection with state doping, was the right one. The Russian athletes had been able to compete, but without the honors given to Russia, that is to say without the flag and the anthems. In my opinion, this was the right position, because it puts the spotlight on a situation that is out of the ordinary. The idea is not to honor Russia, but without depriving the athletes who, on the whole, have nothing to do with it.
We must be aware of one thing: it is not because we are at war that there is no longer any diplomacy. We must continue to have contacts, and in particular positive contacts. In this area, sport can generate magnificent images, the space of a competition, through hugs or gestures of humanity that will thwart other images to which we are unfortunately accustomed since the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict. Shouldn’t you go to Berlin for the 1936 Games? Jesse Owens proved that it is.
Finally, in the world unfortunately, there are other conflicts. Why would the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the only real decision-maker on whether or not to welcome Russian athletes, take a position for this conflict and not for all the others present in the world? In the eyes of all, we would be explaining that the African dead or the Asian dead everywhere in the world would be less important than the Ukrainian dead. It is a European prism, and it is dangerous. »
► “We are not asking the same for other countries at war”
Pascal Boniface, geopolitical scientist and founder of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris)
“President Zelensky is, as always, in communication. It is addressed to Emmanuel Macron and not to Tony Estanguet (president of the organizing committee of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, editor’s note)or Thomas Bach (IOC President, Editor’s note). But the one who can really answer him is Thomas Bach, surrounded by his board of directors.
By addressing the French president, he takes care of his communication with his own population. In Ukraine, for sure, some will think that it was Emmanuel Macron who refused his request and it will serve him at some point. But on the form, it obviously has no chance of being implemented. On this question, it is difficult to object to Zelensky that diplomatic channels should be maintained, because no one dares to tell him anything. He is the “courageous” president of a martyred country. We can therefore adhere or not to his demands, but it is impossible in the media to say that his demands are excessive, even when they are.
On the merits now, the request in itself is not legitimate. Russian athletes are not responsible for what their leader does. Putin’s regime is different from the Russian people. In 2003, no boycott had been decided for the Athens Games the following year, for the Americans and the British, who had nevertheless declared war in Iraq. The Games were even awarded to London some time later. Of course, Vladimir Putin committed an assault. Yes, it is against all Olympic principles. Yes, maybe some athletes have distinguished themselves by openly supporting their head of state in aggressive language, but it would be deeply unfair to Russian athletes, as a whole, to decide to ban them.
We did not ask for the exclusion of Ethiopia when it committed a massacre in Tigray or of Rwanda for what the M23 is doing in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. You have to be vigilant with this very European-centric eye. When the Russian football team was excluded from the competitions, the decision was taken by UEFA and not by Fifa which, I think, would have probably taken another decision. It is clear that there is often a difference in judgment between Westerners and the rest of the world.
Finally, in a very practical way, such a decision, if it were to happen, would in any case be completely premature at this stage. We are a year and a half away from the 2024 Paris Games and given the way events have turned out since the beginning of the conflict, who can say today, with certainty, where we will be in a few months? »