/It’s a pleasure to present this guest column by one of the most knowledgeable observers of the Olympic Movement, Britain’s David Miller. For more than 50 years, the former English footballer has covered the Olympic Games and the sports within it, including 15 years as the Chief Sports Correspondent of The Times of London, with stints at the Daily Express and the Daily Telegraph. Author of books on athletics, football and the Olympics, he was Official Historian of the IOC from 1997-2018. His opinions are, of course, his own alone./
First, swallow hard. With constitutional, fine intent yet agonisingly misguided concept, the International Olympic Committee – unique global institution purporting to uphold sporting and social honour – is alarmingly blind to Russia’s magnification of Adolf Hitler‘s abominable Krystallnacht of November 1938: a comprehensive blitz of entire Jewish business premises across Germany and Austria.
Ironically coinciding with the Holocaust anniversary, the IOC has reaffirmed its wish to ‘explore’ administrative loopholes for qualification acceptance of Russia/Belarus athletes for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris. Arithmetically, Ukraine civilian casualties – murdered, tortured, impoverished – will not equate with six million or more Jews, but maybe, say, one thousand deceased for every freestyle swimmer or boxer ‘welcomed’ in Paris. Fair deal? The risk of moral surrender which the IOC does not seem ready to address is not an historic insult to every living Ukrainian willing to risk life in defence of sovereignty, but the global political danger for neighbouring democratic nations. There is evidence, across centuries, of Russia’s empire ambitions, initiated by Peter the Great, which Vladimir Putin is on record for ambition to restore.
The Ukraine atrocity has not merely crushed retail businesses, but schools, hospitals, power generators, railway stations, wholesale civic construction … and countless women and children. Acceptable part-exchange for a Russian bronze medal?
The IOC’s alleged social principle – based on the convenient camouflaged proposal from the Olympic Council of Asia – that athletes innocent of support for an invasion should not be held accountable and barred from the Olympics (an experience of IOC President Thomas Bach when denied defence of his 1976 Olympic fencing title at Moscow ’80 by West Germany’s affiliation to the USA boycott) is in this case an additional reason for exclusion, rather than inclusion. Under prohibitive Russian law, protest against fake political propaganda risks imprisonment or even execution. Russia is not a free country.
The integrity of individual athletes which the IOC seeks to uphold is itself an issue which needs repetitive attention: not least in the matter of doping infringements incurred by juniors under direction of adult coaches and/or doctors.
Face the facts. While there are many honourable legitimate Russian athletes and administrators, many of whom I’ve known over six decades, the national concept that sporting achievement is a functional objective of state administration is a long-established principle since before Joseph Stalin. You cannot be buddies with war criminals.
Way beyond the IOC’s constitutional power – in the wake of Ukraine’s minister of sport requesting French Premier Emmanuel Macron to ensure Russia/Belarus exclusion from the Paris Games – it has stated: “Governments must have no control over Olympic qualification”. The IOC controls a Games, not governments. Was the Olympic eligibility for Athens ’04 of the United States and Great Britain held in question over the regime change invasion of Saddam’s Iraq? The IOC treads a near impossible path in handling mega political powers; the only absolute non-negotiable power of Lausanne is who runs in the race.
The fringe, supportive organisation Athletes of Ukraine has claimed the IOC is in breach of the Olympic Charter in seeking Russia/Belarus inclusion, especially in the light of Russian NOC President Stanislav Pozdnyakov claiming Olympic athletes should be honoured to fight in the invasion. AOU states: “The IOC is on the wrong side of history… its objective being to promote sport for the harmonious development of human kind… the Russian team is part of the Russian state and athletes are not politically free.”