Gaming politics: how relations between Russia and the Olympic movement evolved in the 20th and early 21st centuries


December 6th, 2017 – Fort Russ News – 
– RT Russia, by Vladimir Zaivy – translated by J. Flores for FRN – 

The decision of the International Olympic Committee to remove Russia from the Games in Pyeongchang was not the first dramatic episode in the history of the national team. After the revolution of 1918 and until the end of the Second World War, Soviet athletes never took part in the Olympics. The first time they did so was only in 1952. However, later relations between the USSR and the Olympic movement were not easy: for what it’s worth, there was the refusal of 66 states headed by the USA to take part in the Olympic Games in Moscow. This piece is on the conflicts and disagreements of our country and the IOC

Shot from the opening ceremony of the 1980 Olympic Games in the USSR

The first crisis in relations between Russia and the Olympic movement occurred after the October Revolution. The new Bolshevik government dissolved the Russian Olympic Committee, established in 1911, and the only representative of the country in the International Olympic Committee, Lev Urusov, emigrated, continuing to hold this post.

Control over sporting life in Russia went to Vsevobuch – the General Directorate of General Military Education and the formation of reserve units of the Red Army, in which there was a department of physical education and sport. Before the summer Olympic Games in 1920, representatives of Vsevobuch tried to contact the IOC, so that eight Russian athletes could compet in Antwerp. However, the team failed to send the team, and there were several reasons: the Soviet government did not recognize itself as the successor to the tsarist, the country did not have its own national Olympic committee, and the political situation of those times could not allow the Soviet flag to appear in one of the central European cities.

Four years later, when the USSR was already formed, the question of the participation of Russian athletes in the Olympics was again raised, this time in Paris. Urusov proposed that the two teams – Soviet and emigrant – perform, but the IOC rejected this idea. In parallel, the French workers’ sports gymnastic union sent an invitation to the Supreme Council for Physical Culture of the RSFSR, but it was not accepted. In the Soviet Union, it was felt that they should be invited directly by the IOC, and not through intermediaries. Until 1940, individual organizations advocated the invitation of Soviet athletes, but the IOC was still adamant and refused direct contact.

The situation changed after the Second World War. Both sides took a step forward, and in 1952 the USSR team made its debut at the Olympic Games. But already four years later the political situation was again heated. The entry of Soviet troops into Hungary provoked outrage among a number of countries. It came to the point that the Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain refused to fly to Melbourne and perform at the Summer Olympics (although in the equestrian competitions that took place in Stockholm, all three countries participated). At the Olympics, the confrontation between the USSR and Hungary resulted in a scandalous water polo match in which team players fought to death. 

The entry of troops into Czechoslovakia in 1968 did not cause such a strong international reaction. The only episode that broke the calm course of the competition, occurred in the hall for gymnastics. Czech Vera Chaslavskaya twice lowered her head during the awards ceremony, which sounded the hymn of the USSR. After that, her sports career was completed, she could not leave the borders of Czechoslovakia. 

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The peak of oppression of the USSR in the Olympic arena fell in 1980. The US called on the whole world to boycott the Moscow Olympics because of the introduction of Soviet troops into Afghanistan. 66 countries completely refused to participate. A few more states supported the boycott, but their athletes still came out under a neutral flag. In the future, this idea was used in situations where the participation of a particular team caused a conflict situation. 

The Soviet Union responded to the demarche of Western countries by boycotting the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. It was supported by 15 countries, another three refused to travel to the US for their own reasons. Four years later, Soviet athletes participated in the Games, held in South Korea, with which diplomatic relations were not established. 

In 1992, Russian athletes had to perform for the first time not under their own flag. After the collapse of the USSR, the IOC invited all the former Soviet republics, except the Baltic republics, to unite for the last time into one team. Its symbols are the Olympic flag and anthem. But they were used only at the opening ceremonies and during the awarding of athletes in team disciplines. In personal competitions athletes represented their own countries, and fans could hear the anthems of Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and Moldova. 

The Olympic movement lasted almost a quarter of a century without political scandals involving Russians, until the first report of Richard McClaren was released before the 2016 Olympics. Formally, then the IOC did nothing about Russian athletes, shifting responsibility to international sports federations, and already they reduced the team by almost a third. 

Now the IOC for the first time formally removed Russia from participating in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, punishing the country for violating anti-doping rules. All this can be limited: at the closing ceremony, the Russian Olympic Committee can be restored, and the athletes will not be forbidden to go marching with their native tricolor. 

By the way, in Russian history there was already an athlete who won the Olympics, but in his honor did not sound a native hymn. He was not helped by his Olympic Committee, and he paid for a trip to the competitions himself. This figure skater Nikolai Panin-Kolomenkin, Olympic champion in 1908. Nevertheless, everyone knows what country he represented and what a great sporting power it has turned into. 

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