Will Russians compete at the Olympics under the white flag or not?

Vyalbe is counting chickens before they are hatched

What to do with Russian athletes who have been preparing for the main sports competition in their career with public money all their lives and now are ready to perform in Paris under the white flag? The discussion in the sports community is again heated up by Yelena Vyalbe. Realnoe Vremya’s sports staff reflects on the pros and cons of the decision to delegate Russians to the 2024 Olympics.

“We cannot allow them to wipe the floor with us all our life.” Vyalbe demands not to compete

Words of head of the Russian Cross-Country Skiing Federation Yelena Vyalbe who either because of patriotic feelings or because of ideas directly linked with her personal benefits delivered a pep talk that one couldn’t agree to participate in the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024 if the country wasn’t given its flag and anthem back had an effect of an exploded bomb.

“Here there must be an absolutely clear idea, a reason why your flag and anthem were taken away,” Vyalbe told Championat sports outlet. “We know the reason why we have competed at the last Olympics without national symbols, though might this reason be unfair to us. Now the story is completely different. It is a deep story.”

“I am personally convinced, my personal opinion is that I don’t know if the managers of our sport, the Russian Olympic Committee or the president of our country will agree with this opinion but I live in a free country and I have the right to express it: if now one goes to the Olympic Games under the neutral flag, we will cause certain hatred, aggravation and indignation among our fans. This will lead to schism in society.”

Photo: realnoevremya.ru/Maxim Platonov

Vyalbe is obviously cunning claiming the right to freedom of expression at the same time saying that she sticks to the agenda. But the threats of some schism in society because of the competition of several athletes to sports competitions look by far stranger.

“We live good, right?” the head of the Russian Cross-Country Skiing Federation continues. “We eat well, live in good hotels, compete in competitions. For me, an athlete is sacred, absolutely for sure. But in this situation I won’t tell any of my athletes: ‘You must go to the Olympics despite everything, even under the white flag.’ <…> It seems to me that we cannot allow them to wipe the floor with us all our life,” said Vyalbe.

The thoughts are ambiguous in terms of content, but it is much stranger to hear this today at least nobody was going to let Russia go to Paris. The “collective West” gathers summits with 30 countries that are against letting Russians compete, and if needed, they are ready to prohibit their Olympic federations and athletes to participate in such Games. In other words, to boycott the Olympics.

Against this background, it might seem that the clearance for Russians without national symbols could be assessed as the first step to a big victory, however, sports functionaries have already started their “crusade” against the IOC.

Opinions of sports fans classically divided strictly depending on the age and political preferences, which is interlinked in fact. An older category of some conservatives primarily backed Vyalbe indicating that we should have refused as early as before the Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 when a half of our national team was simply left home, the other half didn’t have the flag. Allegedly, it was a “test” and examination of Russia’s reaction. Since the Russian Olympic Committee agreed with everything, the IOC supposedly went further and banned under a new pretext or, more precisely, the conflict in Ukraine.

The “new generation” expectedly prepared eggs and tomatoes and spit out their righteous anger on the head of the skiing federation. The arguments are the same here: like athletes sacrificed all their lives to prepare for the Olympic Games and do they have to miss the main event in their sports career because of political games? It is true, poor athletes. There is a but. All the athletes, as a rule, have been preparing for these Olympic Games at sports venues built thanks to state programmes, went to free clubs from childhood — they were funded by the federal budget too. So it is not very correct to say about some independence of athletes who should compete regardless of their citizenship. Seemingly, Ukraine decided to act following this logic.

Ukrainian athletes can lose public funding. Can such measures be taken in Russia?

The topic of athletes’ funding and their preparation for international competitions has already been raised from an unexpected place — Ukraine. According to TASS citing the press service of Ukraine’s Ministry of Youth and Sport, Ukrainian federations can lose public support and funding in case they participate in tournaments with Russians and Belarusians.

“There was designed a project of the decree of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine that envisages the possibility of divesting all Ukrainian sports federations the status of national in case athletes who are members of dedicated sports federations compete in international sports competitions where athletes from the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus take part.”

So it would be easier for the International Olympic Committee and other national Olympic federations not to allow Russians to compete even as neutral athletes than permit discord in Ukrainian sport. Vyalbe counting chickens before they are hatched today looks nothing but sabre rattling.

Another question is if the Russian Olympic Committee is ready to take such a measure if Russians want to compete in Paris under the white flag with the logo of the IOC? Or will they anyway support athletes’ dreams of competing at the Olympic Games and won’t impose any financial restrictions?

Erik Dobrolyubov

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