When the Arctic Winter Games International Committee gave Yamal the boot on Tuesday, I was the least-shocked sports writer in the world.
It wasn’t if, but when John Flynn, the international committee’s president, would announce that the autonomous region in Russia would be told they would be on the outside looking in. Now that it’s done, there are eight jurisdictions that will be in Fort McMurray, Alta., next January for the present time.
It sucks that Yamal’s athletes won’t be able to take part. I don’t know what their feelings on the invasion are because I’m neither there on the ground nor am I inside their heads. But we have had some comments from people on our social media feeds lamenting the fact that the younger athletes won’t be playing. That’s where I am on this — let the kids play.
They can’t help where they’re from and more often than not, they have no clue about what’s happening. Sure, the adults in charge can fill their heads with propaganda and I’m sure that’s what’s going on. I’ve been watching some of the newscasts from Russia and, predictably, it’s Ukraine’s fault that they jumped in bed with those dastardly imperialist pigdogs from the West, according to them.
Fact is you and I and anyone else who’s listening knows the score. Vladimir Putin wants to re-create the Soviet empire and what he can’t take through being nice, he’ll just take through force. That’s how thuggish dictators work.
I’m also sure that the international committee thought hard about this and it’s a double-edged sword. Let them play and the bullets start flying from all different directions but keep them out and you’re taking away opportunities. The easy decision was to go with the flow and follow what almost every other international sport organization has done: tell Russians they either aren’t welcome or if they are, don’t identify as Russian.
What we still don’t know is how long Yamal’s suspension is for. Is it indefinite? Is it for good? Only the international committee knows and from what I’ve been told, they aren’t saying anything about that right now. And there’s the issue of what will happen to Yamal’s planned hosting of the Games in 2026. That may be too far ahead to talk about but it’s on the minds of those in charge. I suppose it all depends on how long this carries on and from the looks of it, it won’t be tomorrow.
I even spoke to someone who wondered whether there would be a replacement for Yamal. My response was negative simply because there would be no way for a replacement to have all of the ducks in a row in time. If it the suspension lasts into 2024, it may happen but in the short-term, no.
In the grand scheme of things, Yamal’s suspension from the AWG program isn’t an earth-shattering moment in time. It won’t deter Putin from rampaging through any plot of land he deems worthy of overtaking. But what it does is put yet another nail in Russia’s coffin, even though sanctions and everything else hasn’t deterred Putin, and Yamal has become collateral damage in a way.
How long do I think the suspension will last? As long as Vladimir Putin carries on.