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Sports Talk: As goes Russia into Ukraine, so goes their sports down the drain

Anyone want to be a Russian athlete these days? Exactly.

Anyone want to be a Russian athlete these days? Exactly.

With Vladimir Putin deciding to invade yet another sovereign country with the end goal of recreating the Soviet Union — no matter what anyone else may have to say — the entire world has made their displeasure known in its own way. Banks can no longer do business with Russia, no more flights originating from Russia making landings etc. Here in the North, we’ve decided to take all Russian liquor off the shelves until further notice. A small gesture which most likely won’t force Putin’s hand but, hey — better than sitting and watching.

Since I cover sports, and many of you have been kind enough to tell me to stick to writing about sports (shut up and dribble, right?), let’s talk about that. Basically, anything involving Russian athletes or teams of any sort have been affected. Here’s what we know so far:

The UEFA Champions League final, which was supposed to happen in St. Petersburg in May, will now happen in Paris in May;

The World Curling Federation has taken the European Curling Championship in November away from the city of Perm and will host it somewhere else;

The St. Petersburg Open tennis tournament has been moved to Kazakhstan (…OK?) and will happen in September;

Two of the non-Russian teams of the Kontinental Hockey League, Jokerit of Finland and Dinamo Riga of Latvia, have decided to leave the league and will return to their domestic leagues;

The men’s national soccer teams of Poland, Czech Republic and Sweden have announced they will not play any World Cup qualifiers versus the Russian national side while the Football Association in England have said its teams won’t play anything Russian “for the foreseeable future”;

The International Olympic Committee, always on the side of whatever you aren’t, is “greatly concerned” about the events unfolding in Ukraine. It has proposed banning Russian and Belarusian athletes and teams from competing under their own flags and not using their anthems, which is confusing because I thought the IOC had already outlawed use of the word “Russia” in its programming. But I’m not the IOC so I guess it makes sense.

Pick a sport or event and chances are Russia will be affected somehow. FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, was a wee bit late to the game as it only banned Russia from competing in anything only after being bent over by the world over its initial decision to allow Russia to compete as the Russian Football Union, similar to the IOC allowing Russia to compete as the Russian Olympic Committee. Essentially, the non-Russian Russian angle.

When you think of athletes, you first think about the National Hockey League because there is a rather sizable amount of Russian players who make their living on this side of the Pacific Ocean. A lot of the statements I’ve read from Russian players, notably Alexander Ovechkin, have been very vague. Sure, they want no war — who wants war? — but nothing really equaling a condemnation. The NHL condemned the Russian invasion and will suspend business with any of its Russian partners.

I can see their side of it because the last thing they need is to be seen as “traitors”. Putin loves his hockey — he even scored eight goals in an all-star game involving some of Russia’s greatest players, like, oh my God! — and anything from players like Ovechkin or Nikita Kucherov or anyone with name value speaking ill of the “military action”, Putin’s fancy term for his invasion, would mean a one-way, all-expenses-paid trip to the nearest salt mine in Khabarovsk for those guys and their families.

Though I do like Dominik Hasek and his line about how the players are, well, poultry poop. Use your imagination.

Protesters hold a placard reading “Stop Putin” during a demonstration at Odeonsplatz against Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. If only it was that easy … (Tobias Hase/dpa via AP)
Protesters hold a placard reading “Stop Putin” during a demonstration at Odeonsplatz against Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. If only it was that easy … (Tobias Hase/dpa via AP)

Now that I’ve stopped dribbling for the time being, let me postulate about this whole thing:

This could have, and should have, been stopped well before we reached this point. Diplomacy is the way you do it but people like Putin only understand one thing: strength. Had we helped Ukraine a bit better than simply holding up pieces of paper telling the world that we stand with them and, oh, don’t you like that pretty hashtag, Putin would have read the tea leaves. Ronald Reagan had it right during his presidency when he said “peace through strength”. War should be the absolute last option but you also show the other side you mean business by showing them that yours is bigger than theirs.

Had the artillery shown up before now, Putin would have backed off. And if that didn’t work, then the sanctions kicked in. Yes, the sanctions have crippled the Russian economy to the point where a piece of toilet paper has more value than a ruble, but Putin likely did a cost analysis before kicking off. He probably knew the world wouldn’t do anything to him until after he moved in, giving him ample opportunity to collect his kopecks and count his savings.

Oil and gas is where Putin will be hurt the most, which is why when the troop build-up was first noticed this time last year, any and all oil and gas imports should have been stopped. All that did was give Putin more money for his coffers and more confidence that the world wouldn’t stop him. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline should have been capped and deals cut for oil and gas with allies. Like, for example, Canada. But when you become dependent on an adversary for energy thanks to outsourcing your environmental policy to some Swedish teenager, this is the end result.

Russian diplomats should have been shown the door, embassies closed, relations cut. It’s awful tough for Russia to do business around the world when no country wants to even pick up the phone and you can’t lobby anyone in person. Sure, China can play the run-around on any sanctions, diplomatic or financial or otherwise, but they’ll only buy so much. You think other allies like Iran, Venezuela or Cuba will pick up the slack? Venezuela’s currency is toilet paper because that’s how some people have been paying for goods and services in that once-prosperous (and very, very oil-rich) nation. The barter system, gang.

Anyway, they claim there are smarter people than I working on this so let’s let them try and figure it out. In the meantime, I’ll see how I do with speaking up and pitching.

About the Author: James McCarthy

I'm the managing editor with NNSL Media and have been so since 2022.
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