Sports Ukraine-Russia War

Ed Warner: The row over sport banning Russian players will be even bigger in 2023

Daniil Medvedev was among the Russian players suspended for Wimbledon last year but the dispute has not gone away

Wimbledon will be here before we know it. Expect the debate on banning Russian and Belarusian stars to start soon.

The tug-of-war over the participation of the two warring nations in next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris has already begun. Divisions within the sport and between its leaders and politicians are inevitable.

Last year, the All England Club, with the backing (or, if you prefer, pressured) of the UK government, banned players like Daniil Medvedev from playing Wimbledon, stripping him of his ranking points. I applauded them then and see no reason to change my mind now.

Contrary to the arguments of the naysayers, the tournament did not suffer a mass exodus of big-name players who were more concerned about their global standing than the prize money and seal of approval offered in SW19.

However, it was reported in the All England committee room that things are conflicting as his leadership are under fire for not retaining Championship ranking status. The fear is that in the short term they could get away with a ban once, but not a second time.

As the war in Ukraine continues with no prospect of an early solution, the chances of a turnaround are increasing. Britain has had its second prime minister since last year’s ban, and the zeal to pressure Putin’s regime through sport may have waned in favor of commercial pragmatism.

It’s fair to say that the International Olympic Committee is dying to see Russia in Paris. The only uncertainty is how privately President Thomas Bach is anxious for his flag to be raised rather than for the country’s athletes to compete under the banner of neutrality

However, the sports that make up the Games have taken a number of viewpoints, some quite remote from those of the IOC. Things could still get messy.

World Athletics, responsible for Olympic marquee sport, has awarded neutral status to a number of Russian athletes it says are free from the cloud of state-sponsored doping that hangs over the sport.

But because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they are currently not allowed to take part in major international events.

The qualifying phase for Paris begins on July 31 in most athletics disciplines. Russian athletes who have passed the anti-doping filter may have difficulty finding opportunities to compete that would allow them to qualify.

If they do, they may face an ideological battle between the IOC and World Athletics before their ability to run, jump or throw at Paris is decided.

The French government already sees a massive PR challenge ahead. Where will she position herself if Ukrainian athletes refuse to compete against “neutral” Russians and Belarusians in Paris next summer?

Can it withstand the IOC? The conundrum in the UK over fortnight tennis bans is like marbles to medicine balls by comparison.

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