top of page


Countries have exploited sports for nation-building and other political purposes since time immemorial. In authoritarian regimes like Russia, sports development programs are intimately connected to the military industrial complex. Allowing Russian athletes, who represent the most powerful rogue state on Earth, to participate at the 2024 Paris Olympics would be the ultimate sports-washing disaster of the 21st century. 


Russia is no stranger to sportswashing. In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Ukrainian Crimea weeks after hosting the Sochi Olympics. In 2018, Russia hosted the World Cup weeks after helping the dictator of Damascus massacre civilians with chemical weapons in the Syrian city of Douma. In 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine four days after the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. Russian President Vladimir Putin lied to everyone from world leaders to Russian lawmakers about the conspicuous buildup of Russian forces on Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus.


Like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union before it, sports development programs in Russia are incestuously intertwined with the Russian military industrial complex. Dynamo Sports Club (Dynamo) maintains close ties to the Federal Security Service (FSB). Central Sports Committee of the Army’s (CSKA) charter explicitly states that it is part of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Twenty-eight of the 32 medals awarded to Russia at the 2022 Beijing Olympics were won by athletes associated with Dynamo or CSKA.


Russian athletes might not have raped women in Kyiv, massacred innocent and defenseless civilians in Bucha, castratedand beheaded prisoners of war, or bombed humanitarian corridors but a lot of them openly support Russia’s invasion. Their involvement in Ukraine varies. Whereas some Russian athletes perform active military service, others conduct paid advertising campaigns to bolster army recruitment. Some even choose to live and train in temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories. 


The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) mission includes protecting athletes from all forms of harassment and abuse. As of April 2023, Russia has murdered at least 262 Ukrainian athletes and destroyed no less than 363 sports facilities since launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Put simply: allowing Russian athletes, especially those connected to Russia’s military industrial complex, to participate at the 2024 Paris Olympics while that same country commits unspeakable atrocities against Ukrainians is a disgrace. If the crimes of aggression and genocide are not the epitome of harassment and abuse, then I don’t know what is. 

Pleading willful ignorance of Russia’s crimes of genocide and aggression is unacceptable in both fact and in law. Unless we accept and normalize a known murderer committing killing spree after killing spree. The Russian Federation’s genocidal intent is well-documented through press releases, and state-affiliated media. It is also corroborated by hundreds if not thousands of hours of video footage, and both witness and victim testimonies. In March 2023, the International Criminal Court even issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest.

To be clear, there is no moral equivalence between Russia and Ukraine. A great power, empire and permament member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its smaller neighbor and former colony to decapitate its democratically-elected government, annex its sovereign territory and plunder its resources. Russia murdered thousands of civilians in Ukraine, displaced millions more, and wiped dozens of Ukrainian cities off the face of the Earth in the process. If Russia withdrew, the war would end. If Ukrainians stopped fighting, Ukraine would end.


It is often said the highway to hell is paved with good intentions. No wonder Putin has accelerated past every off-ramp the West has offered him. When the Ukrainian Armed Forces proved the Russian Army wouldn’t achieve its strategic and tactical objectives, Putin doubled down by announcing a partial mobilization followed by formally annexing Ukrainian territories (Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Luhansk) that Russia didn’t control. Undeterred by sanctions and unapologetic in its conduct, failure is not an option for the Russian Federation.

The only reasonable and proportionate response to Russia’s genocidal invasion of Ukraine is complete isolation in the international arena. This includes preventing Russia from hosting and Russian athletes—especially those with direct connections to the Russian military industrial complex—from participating in international sporting events indefinitely.


Until Russia withdraws from Ukraine, normalization should remain off the table for peace-promoting and freedom-loving institutions like the IOC. In fact, all state affiliated sporting bodies connected to the Russian military industrial complex should be sanctioned immediately and indefinitely. 


Allowing Russian athletes to participate at the 2024 Paris Olympics while Russia commits atrocities in Ukraine violates the IOC’s mission. Even worse, sportswashing Russia’s genocidal invasion ensures that “never again” becomes again and again and again—to all of humanity’s detriment.            


Originally published by Newsweek on June 28, 2023.

bottom of page