Pascal Boniface
Director of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS)

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16/05/2022 par Pascal Boniface

The Conflict in Ukraine: A Turning Point for the Sports Movement

“Make no mistake. The conflict in Ukraine could mark a turning point for the international sports movement. It will go down in history. For the first time, sports governing bodies have massively abandoned their sacrosanct principle of political neutrality. The IOC led the way and international sports federations have followed suit. Russia and Belarus have been excluded from the Olympic movement, their events have been taken away from them, their teams banned from competitions. This position sets a precedent. A first in contemporary history. Let us remember that the London Olympics were awarded to Great Britain in 2005, only two years after the country participated in the war in Iraq.

Why such a reaction from the sports movement? The future will undoubtedly provide a more precise answer, but I would dare to give two explanations: firstly, times have changed, and now there is a shared feeling that war is no longer acceptable; secondly, the western world weighs heavily on the sports movement. The real reason for this unique position taken by the authorities is undoubtedly due to a mixture of the two hypotheses.

One thing is certain: from the start of Russian offensives, the conflict in Ukraine has triggered a mobilization that is unprecedented in the sports world. This mobilization has encompassed a very large number of countries and communities, without being limited to the countries which are most affected. Solidarity with Ukraine has been expressed from top to bottom, from international organizations to national federations and even local clubs. Initiatives have been very numerous, often spontaneous. With a rarely-known resonance, they have illustrated the insight behind the creation of Peace and Sport: sport can be a tremendous tool for peace and solidarity. It will not prevent wars, but it can help mitigate their most negative consequences.

There are many examples of this unprecedented mobilization of the sports world. From the start of the conflict, the IOC announced the creation of a fund to help the Ukrainian Olympic community. Coordinated by former pole-vaulter Sergey Bubka, it had already raised 2 million dollars by the beginning of April. The International Canoe Federation (ICF) followed suit, in turn creating an aid fund and calling on its member countries to welcome Ukrainian athletes. Its call was massively heard, notably by Poland, Romania, Germany, France and Estonia. At the beginning of May, the French Ministry of Sports announced that more than 70 high-level Ukrainian athletes and their supervisors had been, or were in the process of being, welcomed in public sports establishments.

Another unusual phenomenon: athletes have spoken out. They too rallied round. They too expressed their solidarity with Ukraine. They did so as citizens of the world, not just as champions. They have made their voices heard. They have shown that they are not cut off from social and societal realities and that they can take a stand on the conflicts, causes and issues of the world around them. It is not the vocation of sportspeople to take a stand on current events. They have not often been asked to express an opinion. But they have done so. This is another reason why the conflict in Ukraine could mark a turning point.”

The last WATCH of Pascal Boniface, Director of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), was published in the French newspaper Le Monde: Read more


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