The coalition of Olympic perpetrators
The IOC and Russian president Vladimir Putin have grown increasingly close over recent years. Here IOC president Thomas Bach meets Putin at the Minsk 2019 European Games Photo: Sergei Bobylev/Getty Images
A week after the Russian invasion in the Ukraine, world sport led by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has largely cut ties with the aggressors Russia and Belarus.
Under great public pressure, the IOC gave direction in a statement on 28 February. A few hours later, the two federations with the highest turnover in the Olympic business besides the IOC acted: the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). Both excluded Russian teams from their competitions.
At the same time, in the middle of a war, UEFA terminated the sponsorship agreement with its long-time partner Gazprom. While the IOC decisions affect Russia and Belarus, FIFA and UEFA exempt Belarus from the sanctions.
This came a week after the first of so far five sanctions packages by the European Union - and two days after the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports and the The National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark called for Russia and Belarus to be completely excluded from sports. Two days feel like two months in times of war, when events are overlapping. Two days are half an eternity.
Only a few hours before the IOC declaration, the leaders of one of the most important National Olympic Committees, the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB), responded to the demands for Russia's exclusion by saying that they would sound out the situation, wait and discuss it "in the coming weeks".
One night later, almost simultaneously with the publication of the IOC statement, the DOSB declared in only a very few lines that they demanded the exclusion of the two warring nations.
This is how Olympic opportunism works.
Many federations avoid calling the war what it is
Some propagandists of the Olympic movement are already hailing the beginning of a new era. Other usual suspects argue in all seriousness that the IOC has put political considerations above the interests of the poor Russian athletes. That is not acceptable.
Once again, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is brought into play, which must be alarming, because CAS is not a real court, but only an arbitration court dominated by the IOC. Grit Hartmann recently analysed the questionable role of CAS in detail for Play the Game.
There is no reason for cheering and exaggerating the initial decisions of leading sports organisations. By no means all international federations have taken drastic measures. In their initial reactions of the past few days, many international federations (IF) have neither called the war a war, nor mentioned the aggressors Russia and Belarus, nor the supreme warmonger and mass murderer Vladimir Putin. This is only disgraceful, they have been using Russian propaganda until the end, for example, when they spoke of a "crisis in Ukraine" or even only of a "situation".
All this is reminiscent of the myth that Russia has already been punished severely since 2015 because of the state doping system – even if Russia has not really been punished consistently or completely excluded from the Olympic Games. There were always loopholes. Time and again, officials and lawyers have managed to pull off despicable tricks. The focus was never on the victims of the gigantic fraud, only on the perpetrator nation.
Anything less than a complete international ban on Russian and Belarusian sport for at least one Olympiad would be a mockery of all the victims of the war in Ukraine. Russia and Belarus should be rigorously banned completely from at least the 2024 Summer Games and Paralympics in Paris and the 2026 Winter Games in Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo. Without any tricks. Without the participation of athletes and teams under IOC flags or whatever other mendacious solutions were available in the past.
Wavering in the face of a ‘dilemma’
The first decisions of the IOC, FIFA, UEFA, and some other organisations are no more than a start. They are less than the least that can be expected. They are less than what responsible lobby organisations of athletes, such as Athletes Germany or Global Athlete, have demanded. They are less than what some of the most active national federations – especially from Poland and the Nordic countries – have demanded.
It is good and right that sports associations are increasingly focusing on the suffering Ukrainian athletes and on humanitarian measures.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) wants to keep Russia and Belarus participating in the Winter Paralympics starting on 4 March in China. Some nations are opposed to this. It seems that the last word has not yet been spoken. The IOC built a bridge for the IPC, whose President Andrew Parsons (Brazil) is himself an IOC member, in its statement of 28 February:
"Russian or Belarusian nationals, be it as individuals or teams, should be accepted only as neutral athletes or neutral teams. No national symbols, colours, flags or anthems should be displayed. Wherever, in very extreme circumstances, even this is not possible on short notice for organisational or legal reasons, the IOC EB leaves it to the relevant organisation to find its own way to effectively address the dilemma described above."
Meanwhile, the killing in Ukraine continues. Russian troops are being reinforced and advancing on the capital Kyiv. Women and children are being killed. We can all follow this almost live online. As I work on this commentary, "The Kyiv Independent" publishes a video of a missile strike on Independence Square in Kharkiv. Putin threatens nuclear weapons. The likelihood of Ukraine being taken by the aggressors, despite the heroic resistance of its people, remains greater than the hope that the defenders will successfully resist. So much realism must unfortunately be - despite everything: Слава Україні!
Under these circumstances, Russia and Belarus should participate in the Paralympics? How can one even think of sports intercourse under these circumstances?
In the IOC's statement, the vocabulary "dilemma" appears. This is a typical term from IOC President Thomas Bach's sports political language kit. This word suggests Bach's involvement in even editing the IOC text.
When IOC says dilemma, in this case they mean: "While athletes from Russia and Belarus would be able to continue to participate in sports events, many athletes from Ukraine are prevented from doing so because of the attack on their country." You will see how this word is carried over into the news coverage and commentaries. The IOC propagandists are desperately trying to influence communication.
Key actions the IOC should also take
Olympic sport lags miles behind the actions of politicians. The historical truth is, once again: Olympic sport had to be driven to these first tentative decisions.
Crucial questions remain unanswered.
It remains scandalous that the IOC did not suspend the National Olympic Committees (NOC) of Russia and Belarus at the same time.
It remains scandalous that FIFA and UEFA have not suspended the football associations of Russia and Belarus at the same time. No Olympic world federation has done so as of noon, 1 March 2022.
It remains scandalous that the IOC has not suspended its two Russian IOC members: Yelena Isinbayeva, an Olympic champion loyal to Putin, and Shamil Tarpishev, the former sports minister, a former KGB spy who has had excellent relations with the Russian mafia for ages and embezzled billions of euros in the 1990s.
As of 1 March 2022, the IOC had not suspended the two Russian IOC members, Yelena Isinbayeva (pictured) and Shamil Tarpishev. Photo: Stanislav Krasilnikov/Getty Images
It remains scandalous that the IOC does not suspend the two Russian IOC honorary members: the former KGB agent Vitaly Smirnov and the Olympic champion Alexander Popov - the latter is the exception among the Russian IOC cadres, a man of honour and that is by no means meant ironically. According to the Olympic Charter, the four Russians, like all IOC members, are so-called ambassadors of the IOC in their home country – so it should be logical for the IOC to kick them out.
It remains scandalous that as of the morning of 1 March 2022, no Olympic federation has suspended an active Russian board member or even an active Russian president.
UEFA, for example, terminated its contract with Gazprom. However, Alexander Dyukov, the CEO of Gazprom Neft, has so far remained a member of UEFA's Executive Committee. Gazprom Neft is on the sanctions lists of the European Union and the US Department of the Treasury. So why hasn't UEFA kicked Dyukov out long ago?
The IOC protects an oligarch on the European Union’s sanction list
Since 28 February, the sanctions list of the European Union has also included the oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who is loyal to Putin and who has played a key role in Putin's sporting armada for an eternity in various functions - and of course with his wealth. So why is Usmanov still an honourable member of the Olympic family and president of the The International Fencing Federation (FIE)?
The oligarch Alisher Usmanov is on the EU's sanction list. He is close to Putin and has played a key role in building Putin's sporting power. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/Getty Images
Usmanov's expensive lawyers are world-class at cleaning up their client's CV. Sometimes you get the feeling that the whole internet is being cleaned up. That's why I don't even know if it's still allowed to write that Usmanov is a dubious figure. But this is a commentary, so it should be possible without running the risk of ending up in a Russian gulag or a London court.
Usmanov has been president of the World Fencing Federation FIE since 2008. When he was re-elected in 2021, IOC President Thomas Bach sat by his side at the Congress in Lausanne and said: "I congratulate my friend Alisher Usmanov on his re-election as FIE President. Mr Usmanov was instrumental in developing fencing all over the world, and I am confident that under his leadership, this wonderful Olympic sport will continue its further development."
One thing is clear: without Usmanov's million-dollar payments, the FIE could hardly exist. The billionaire by Putin's grace keeps the world federation alive. This is similar in the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) and the oligarch Vladimir Lissin. This billionaire has served as ISSF president since 2018.
I would like to quote from the European Union sanctions list of 28 February 2022 to show which figures are among the honoured grandees of the Olympic family and personal friends of the IOC President:
"Alisher Usmanov is pro-Kremlin oligarch with particularly close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has been referred to as one of Vladimir Putin's favourite oligarchs. He is considered to be one of Russia's businessmen-officials, who were entrusted with servicing financial flows, but their positions depend on the will of the President. Mr Usmanov has reportedly fronted for President Putin and solved his business problems. According to FinCEN files he paid $6 million to Vladimir Putin's influential adviser Valentin Yumashev. Dmitry Medvedev, the Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia and former President and Prime Minister of Russia, benefited from the personal use of luxurious residences controlled by Mr Usmanov. Therefore, he actively supported materially or financially Russian decision-makers responsible for the annexation of Crimea and the destabilisation of Ukraine.”
The sanctions list continues:
“Mr Usmanov has interests in iron ore and steel, media and internet companies. His largest holding is steel giant Metalloinvest. When Mr Usmanov took control of business daily Kommersant, the freedom of the editorial staff was curtailed, and the newspaper took a manifestly pro-Kremlin stance. The Kommersant under Mr Usmanov's ownership published a propagandist anti-Ukrainian article by Dmitry Medvedev, in which the former President of Russia argued that it was meaningless to engage in talks with the current Ukrainian authorities, who in his opinion were under direct foreign control. Therefore, he actively supported the Russian government's policies of destabilisation of Ukraine."
Certainly, Usmanov's lawyers will also take action. The oligarch has not lacked money so far. It may be that this will now change with these sanctions.
In late afternoon, 1 March 2022, the deadline of this commentary, a statement by Usmanov was distributed. In the good old Olympic tradition (as it happened in the criminal cases of the IOC members Pat Hickey and Sheikh Al-Sabah) Usmanov self-suspended his duties as FIE President "effective immediately until justice is restored".
Furthermore Usmanov claimed: "I became the target of restrictive measures imposed by the European Union. I believe that such decision is unfair, and the reasons employed to justify the sanctions are a set of false and defamatory allegations damaging my honor, dignity, and business reputation. I will use all legal means to protect my honor and reputation."
Debates about IOC’s billionaires will gather pace
Usmanov is important to the IOC for many reasons. Two years ago, for example, he bought the original manifesto of IOC founder Pierre de Coubertin at an auction for 8.8 million dollars and donated it to the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. Thomas Bach said at the time: "We are witnessing a historic moment, with this manuscript returning to its Olympic home, the place where it belongs."
And Bach - who considers himself a Coubertin descendant and claimed a year ago that he had talked to Coubertin in the garden of the IOC headquarters - praised his friend Usmanov, the oligarch who has been highly controversial for decades:
"Your generosity is making this unique moment possible, a moment that reminds us so vividly of the mission of the Olympic Games to unite the world in peaceful competition. It is thanks to your generosity that we can reflect on our history today and celebrate this direct link to our founding father."
Usmanov said at the time: "Pierre de Coubertin had a vision of a world united by athletic pursuits and not divided by confrontations and wars. I believe that The Olympic Museum is the most appropriate place to keep this priceless manuscript."
Moreover, it's a family business. So no one should be surprised that Usmanov's wife Irina Viner-Usmanova, long-time national coach in rhythmic gymnastics, president of the Russian Gymnastics Federation and loyal to Putin to the core, received the Olympic Order from her friend Thomas Bach in 2015 - in recognition of her outstanding achievements in global sports.
Besides the billionaires Usmanov and Lissin, the millionaire Umar Kremlev is the third Russian to head an Olympic world federation. Kremlev is president of the International Boxing Association (IBA), which until recently was called AIBA. The IBA was suspended by the IOC for decades of corruption in which IOC members played a decisive role and is in danger of losing its Olympic status. Kremlev uses his money to finance the IBA. Among other things, Kremlev is a member of the nationalist motorbike rocker club Night Wolves, which is close to Putin.
Umar Kremlev, another Russian billionaire, is president of the International Boxing Association and a member of a motorbike rocker club close to Putin. Photo: SOPA Images/Getty Images
Certainly, the debate over the presidencies of Usmanov, Lissin and Kremlev will gather pace. As one of the first national federation leaders, Joonas Lyytinen of Finland has declared: "Now when Alisher Usmanov is included in the latest list of sanctioned Russian oligarchs, I don't see how he can keep holding the position of the president of the FIE. Having a person in the international sanctions list as the leader is kind of publicity the fencing community does not need."
Half-hearted stripping of orders
There is one interim decision so far concerning a kind of passive Russian presidency - and it is particularly bizarre: the International Judo Federation (IJF) stripped Vladimir Putin of his honorary presidency on 27 February, even a day before the current IOC declaration. However, only temporarily. The IJF president Marius Vizer was for many years one of the closest confidants of Putin's judokas in world Olympic sport.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the IOC's decision of 28 February is the stripping of Olympic Orders. Vladimir Putin will be stripped of the order he received in Moscow in 2001 from then IOC President and suspected KGB agent Juan Antonio Samaranch. The IOC also revokes the orders awarded in 2014 to Dmitry Chernyshenko (now Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, then CEO of the Sochi Organising Committee) and Dmitry Kozak (now Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office, then Olympic Minister and Deputy Prime Minister) after the irregular doping Winter Games in Sochi.
Following this decision, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) withdrew its highest order awarded to Putin on 1 March, as expected. The FINA Order was awarded to Putin in October 2014 on the occasion of the conference "Russia - A Sport Power" in Cheboksary.
FINA's then president Julio Máglione, who was an IOC member at the time, said: "Russia is undoubtedly one of the most important and major powers in world sport. These achievements are only possible thanks to the active support from the Russian authorities to aquatics. The personal involvement of President Putin in this area greatly contributes to strengthen the fraternity between nations, improve the lifestyle and education of the youth in Russia and promote a healthier society, in a spirit of peace and friendship."
In March 2022 FINA only stated: "The FINA Order awarded to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014 has been withdrawn."
But FINA did not fully ban Russia and Belarus. Athletes are allowed to compete "as neutral athletes or neutral teams", as the IOC had recommended. FINA noted: "No national symbols, colours, flags should be displayed or anthems should be played, in international Aquatics events which are not already part of the respective WADA sanctions for Russia. "
This is another astonishing act of opportunism in Olympic sport. We will see many such U-turns in the coming hours, days, and weeks, rarely even justified and mostly nothing but symbolic politics and desperate attempts at rescue.
It will always be a matter of denying responsibility for one's own actions, falsifying history and propaganda.
The IOC has allowed itself to be taken over by Putin
This Olympic system with the IOC on top has not only allowed itself to be taken over by Russia and Vladimir Putin - this Olympic sport with the IOC at its head has wanted exactly that: Putin's approval, the money of the Kremlin, the state corporations, and oligarchs. "The Decade of Russian Sport" or "Make Russia great again". In this respect, the international sports organisations are on the side of the perpetrators.
They are guilty. They have ignored all the warnings from whistleblowers and the many media revelations on huge corruption, criminality and doping over several decades. They could have, for example, even prevented the gigantic doping fraud at the irregular Sochi Olympics. Nick Harris and Martha Kelner informed the IOC, WADA and the IAAF about the state doping system as early as July 2013. The whistleblower family Yuliya Stepanova and Vitaly Stepanov have even informed WADA since 2010 - to no avail. Something only happened after the German reporter Hajo Seppelt's documentaries starting in December 2014 - after the Sochi Games.
Actually, the entanglement of the so-called Olympic family with the Kremlin mafia in the past decades should be dealt with by independent international investigators, paid and supported by the European Union, and an international court. Anything else would be unacceptable.
By the way, since 2021, Husain Al-Musallam from Kuwait has acted as FINA president. Al-Musallam is on record as a "co-conspirator" in the historic FIFA criminal proceedings of the U.S. Department of Justice. Neither the IOC nor FINA and their so-called ethics committees have taken an interest in that. Al-Musallam, in many functions the long-time right-hand man of the convicted IOC Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, is even seeking IOC membership, like other FINA presidents before him.
In terms of sports politics, it will now be extremely interesting to see how Putin and his people react to the first sports sanctions as well as the personal little pinpricks like the revocation of medals and honorary posts.
In this situation, when the world must fear a World War III, politicians and the public in democratic nations should not allow the Olympic sports federations to get away with a few cosmetic measures. And once again: there has not really been a rethink here. Who in their right mind could claim that only a few days after the propaganda games in Beijing, under the patronage of another dictator, and a few days before the start of the Paralympics in Xi Jinping's empire?
It is not a change of direction. Because other rogue sports states, like China, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, have long since stepped in with their billions for Russia. Enough has been earned in Russia, hundreds of important sports officials have most likely collected gigantic bribes and other benefits, and now other rogue states are being milked.
To take up Thomas Bach’s term again but in a completely different way, the real dilemma of the Olympic family is this: with the first timid resolutions against Russia, which were demanded by the democratic world and could not be avoided, the danger increased for the IOC and its satellites of being paraded by Putin in a historically unique way. The magic word is kompromat, a term that originates from the jargon of the Soviet secret service KGB. Kompromat, compromising material. Olympic Leaks of a special kind.
Putin and his oligarchs undoubtedly have knowledge and documents to blow the lid off the Olympic world.
The Soviet and Russian Olympic spying activities span over a period of half a century. It is quite well documented. From the KGB to the FSB and the military intelligence agency GRU. See the recent indictments against GRU officers in the US, the spying on Olympic institutions, the hacking attacks on anti-doping institutions such as WADA, but also CAS, the IOC, FIFA, and IAAF as well as three dozen other organisations - in addition, there were cyber-attacks on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, 2018 in PyeongChang and the servers of the Olympic organisers in Tokyo.
And there is only one person who has access to all the results of this Olympic espionage. There is only one person who, over the past two decades, has been at the hub of Russian sports politics, only one person who has snapped his fingers and set dozens of oligarchs in motion, who in turn have done everything they can to buy votes, to buy major events and Olympic Games, federations and officials.
That person is Vladimir Putin.
The fear in the Olympic family is enormous.
(Editorial deadline for the commentary – 1 March 2022, 16.30 CET)