Let’s be honest: Russian athletes aren’t expected in Europe

Some won’t want to play with us, others will be afraid to lose medals

August and September are two months when the biggest number of international competitions of the year, world and European championships were held. Then, the international sports activity will be in decline. Nationals and European tournaments where Russia won’t be involved will be on the stage again. Realnoe Vremya’s journalist Jaudat Abdullin thinks that it is time to make a preliminary summary of the 2022 summer season without Russian athletes.

Sadly, many feel good without Russia

Last week marked the end of three big competitions at once. It is the World Wrestling Championships when Greco-Roman wrestlers compete first, then women do and freestyle wrestlers finish the competition. Women also compete in freestyle wrestling, if somebody didn’t know this. Plus, it is cycling and artistic gymnastics, and each of these competitions would usually replenish team Russia’s medal box.

Artistic gymnastics in the capital of Bulgaria Sofia returned to its “default settings.” Few people remember but the Olympic debut of artistic gymnastics was in Los Angeles in 1984 where athletes of socialist countries didn’t go. Precisely Soviet and Bulgarian gymnasts were leaders, and they were followed by gymnasts from the GDR, Hungary, Czechoslovakia a bit falling behind. This is why the first Olympic champion Lori Fung from Canada is one of the luckiest women of the 20th century. 9 years before the Olympic debut, the 1975 World Championship was in Spain when dictator Francisco Franco was dying, but socialist countries didn’t want to perform there, in the end the strongest athletes didn’t go and visited Spain three years later when the European Championship was held there in 1978, without Franco but with Soviet and Bulgaria gymnasts.

Sadly, the situation in Bulgaria isn’t the same, because the “conveyor” of champions of coach Neshka Robeva and Maria Gigova went out a long time ago, and today Bulgarian gymnasts are a blurry remembrance of the past, and the recent world championship can unhappy without Russian and Belarusian artistic gymnasts.

The World Championship now ended in Sofia where Italians, Germans (the best ex-Russian Daria Varfolomeyeva from Barnaul), Slovenians (Yekaterina Vedeneyeva from Irkutsk), Bulgarians showed off, for some reason, Ukrainians weren’t there. Here we must say that leader of the local team Khristina Porganichna could be a gem for anti-Russian mass media. Her two grandfathers fought in pre-revolution military units of Ukraine, her grandmother was a dispatcher of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. However, her injury, the disqualification of the strongest Bulgarian athlete Boryana Kaleyn and team Israel’s leader Daria Atamanov who replaced Olympic champion Lina Ashram made the results of the WC similar with abstractionists’ works. But at the same time obvious things cannot be denied that many were happy about the absence of frontrunners.

Like in wrestling. There are usually a lot of Caucasian last names among medallists, though there is only one ex-Russian — Zelimkhan Abakarov won gold for Albania. The other champions and medallists moved to new countries quite a long time ago being unclaimed in the homeland (Makoyev, Salkazanov, Tsakulov for Slovakia, Bisultanov for Denmark, Musukayev for Hungary). We can be happy for them and at the same time for Serbia that won four (!) gold medals in the same type of wrestling (China isn’t strong in wrestling in general), for Kyrgyzstan where two medals in Greco-Roman wrestling went, for Mongolia that has three medals in freestyle wrestling, but... It is necessary to understand that such harvest was collected mainly because there were Russians and Belarusians. We have enumerated the countries that are considered friendly who are at least ready not to be against the return of Russia’s athletes to the international stage. Why? If in the same wrestling, without us Kyrgyzstan and Serbia will be among candidates for the Olympic god like India and Mongolia. And it is all the countries that do not win Olympic medals thick and fast.

What about Ukraine?

Clearly, Ukraine will be against, though for a different reason. If gymnasts have no medals, wrestlers do three bronze medals, but this is not the case. Ukraine will be against a priority like for instance Finland that has already announced its readiness to boycott the IIHF World Championship in 2024 if team Russia is in. It might seem Canada is ready to invite the Russian national team, which is, by the way, no surprise. England, Canada, the USA, FRG competed in the 1984 Friendship Games that were deliberately organised for athletes from socialist countries that boycotted the Summer Olympics that year. The enumerated countries competed in the Olympics, moreover, the USA hosted the Games, 1984 was the peak of the Cold War, which didn’t impede them from coming to one more competition. The Olympics in Moscow was boycotted too, moreover, there was no intention to refuse sports links in volleyball because national teams were intensively prepared for the Olympics at home.

The organisation hosting the IIHC World Championship is private, it absolutely doesn’t care about decisions and bans of international federations and the IOC like, for example, ATP or WTA in tennis that didn’t even think about banning Russia and Belarus with Medvedev and Rublyov, Azarenko and Sobolenko. The Davis Cup started last week, the international federation that invited neither Russia nor Belarus is hosting it as an organisation controlled by the IOC. And private organisations have nothing to do with the IOC.

By the way, the performance of Ukraine’s men’s team in the World Volleyball Championship is a great example for Russia in all sports. Without irony. Ukrainian volleyballers didn’t have game practice for six months because the season ended in February. Their team isn’t great, many volleyball players obtained citizenship of other countries, and not all current leaders went to the WC. But they reached the quarterfinals. It is an example of ours, basketball players who were taken away the 2022 European and 2023 world championships, football players who will miss the 2024 Euro draw on 9 October, everybody: work, as soon as you are allowed to compete, wallop the rivals without looking back at past problems.

Ukrainian basketball in the European Championship looked good too, fighting with the same problems of the lack of game practice. But they solved them somehow...

On China at last

The end of the international season marks the continuation of Russian “import substitution” of world and European championships or, more precisely, the Solidarity Games. China managed to hardly get a bronze in Greco-Roman wrestling at the World Championship in Belgrade. Its artistic gymnasts competed at the World Championship in Bulgaria with no hope for stepping onto the podium. Will we see China in competitions among swimmers, synchronised swimmers, divers in Kazan?

In addition, there are Russian-Chinese games. This February, Vladimir Putin announced they would be hosted in Beijing in the Chinese capital’s Olympic venues. All started in July 2005 at a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao where they agreed to host youth summer games in 2006. The competition was in Tianjin (2006), Moscow (2006), Beijing (2009), Penza (2011), Shanghai (2013), Irkutsk (2015). It was decided in 2016 to hold winter games. After that, Guangzhou (2017), Samara (2019) hosted summer games, while winter games were in Harbin and Ufa.

The games don’t have a serious sports status, now they are rather a symbol. But precisely when Russia needs this symbol like never before. In early September, during the Eastern Economic Forum, an international chess tournament was held with India, Iran and some former USSR countries. Only Armenian Shant Sargsyan and Ulvia Fataliyeva from Azerbaijan, Farrukh Amonatov from Tajikistan who lives in Russia had quite high ratings, but sadly there weren’t Chinese athletes who would adorn even this tournament that took place nearby with their participation.

Jaudat Abdullin

The author’s opinion does not necessarily coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya’s editorial board.