• Villanova Sports Law Blog

Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: Resulting Sanctions in International Sports

By: Christopher Imad Mdeway, Guest Contributor, 3L


On February 24, 2022, Russia escalated the Russo-Ukrainian War that began in 2014 to a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, making it the largest conventional military attack in Europe since World War II.[1] The invasion sent shockwaves across the globe and every facet of life. The assault has caused Russian exports ranging from energy to food to be physically destroyed, socially cast off, and legally banned.[2] The United States and European allies have placed heavy sanctions on Russian products, with the Biden Administration “threatening to add companies to a trade blacklist if they skirt new export curbs against Russia.”[3] US officials stated, “the U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees export controls, is mobilizing staff around the globe to halt illicit shipments of computers, aircraft parts, marine equipment and other technology to Russia, partnering with allied countries and U.S. law enforcement agencies like the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to crack down on the newly illegal trade.”[4]


Banning Russian Athletes in International Sports

In addition to Russian commodities, Russian athletes, teams, and organizations have been targeted by international sanctions. After facing “threats of withdrawals and growing animosity in the athlete’s village, [the International Paralympic Committee], organizers of the Winter Paralympics . . . expelled athletes from Russia and Belarus.”[5] IPC President Andrew Parsons stated “the war has now come to these Games, and behind the scenes, many governments are having an influence on our cherished event,” acknowledging that the IPC “underestimated the negative reaction to letting Russians and Belarusians compete -- even as neutral athletes.”[6] The Latvian curling team became the first national team, among others, to refuse to play against Russian Paralympic teams.”[7] The Russian Paralympic Committee countered by claiming the expulsion of its athletes is “baseless” and “illegal” as “[Russian athletes] have not done anything which could be interpreted as being involved in the current political complications.”[8]


Other sports have also banned Russian athletes from participating in international competition. First, track and field, which has suspended Russia since 2015 for doping violations, has now moved to blanket ban Russian and Belarussian “authorized neutral athletes.”[9] Second, the International Basketball Federation (“FIBA”) announced “in line with the International Olympic Committee Executive Board resolution and its reasons . . . Russian teams and officials will not be allowed to participate in FIBA Basketball and 3x3 Basketball competitions until further notice.”[10] Third, the International Ice Hockey Federation stated Russia and ally Belarus are banned from its events "until further notice" in response to the invasion of Ukraine.[11] International Hockey Federation President Luc Tardfi noted while “the IIHF is not a political entity and cannot influence the decisions being taken over the war in Ukraine . . .we nevertheless have a duty of care to all of our members and participants and must therefore do all we can to ensure that we are able to operate our events in a safe environment for all teams taking part in the IIHF World Championship program.”[12]


Ultimately, Russia has taken the strongest stance against the soccer bans from FIFA and UEFA. FIFA and UEFA stated in a joint statement, "following the initial decisions adopted by the FIFA Council and the UEFA Executive Committee, which envisaged the adoption of additional measures, FIFA and UEFA have today decided together that all Russian teams, whether national representative teams or club teams, shall be suspended from participation in both FIFA and UEFA competitions until further notice.”[13] In response, Russia has filed an appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport “against the decision by governing bodies FIFA and UEFA to ban Russian teams from international competitions.”[14] The Russian Football Union will “demand the restoration of all men's and women's national teams of Russia in all types of football in the tournaments in which they took part (including in the qualifying round of the World Cup in Qatar), as well as compensation for damage.”[15] Additional measures taken by UEFA, and similar organizations, include contract breaks such as UEFA cutting its €40 million per year sponsorship with Gazprom.[16]


Russian Appeals in The Court of Arbitration for Sport

Established in 1984, the Court of Arbitration for Sport is headquartered in Switzerland with courts in New York City, Sydney, and Lausanne as well as temporary courts in current Olympic host cities.[17] It was designed as an arbitral institution with “the need to create a specialized authority capable of settling international disputes and offering a flexible, quick, and inexpensive procedure.”[18] The Court admits that “jurisdiction of the CAS should in no way be imposed on athletes or federations, but remain freely available to the parties”, restricting actual legal authority.[19]


A significant issue the Court faces is whether to act politically. The Court may decide whether to punish Russian athletes for Russian government action when Russian athletes, teams, and organizations have not directly contributed to the invasion. Alternatively, the Court also faces athletes who do actively involve themselves with the invasion such as


“Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak, who now faces a lengthy ban for wearing a symbol in support of the invasion of Ukraine on the medal podium of a World Cup event. After winning bronze in the parallel bars final at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha, Kuliak taped the letter “Z” to the front of his outfit before standing next to the gold medalist, Illia Kovtun of Ukraine, for the national anthems.”[20]


Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter states “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”[21] Similarly, FIFA holds that “basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious, or personal slogans, statements or images . . . . [t]he team of a player whose basic equipment has political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images will be sanctioned by the competition organizer or by FIFA.”[22]


The Court risks its own validity, international standing, and future case law on all sides of this matter. Ultimately, the Court will need to acknowledge whether international events not directly tied to individual athletes warrants blanket bans.




References

[1] Herb, J., et al. (2022). “US orders 7,000 more troops to Europe following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.” CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/24/politics/us-military-ukraine-russia/index.html.

[2] BBC. (2022). “War in Ukraine: West hits Russia with oil bans and gas curbs.” Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-60666251.

[3] Greifeld, K., Alper, A. (2022). “Shipping Russia banned goods may lead to blacklisting, U.S. warns companies.” Reuters. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/markets/asia/shipping-russia-banned-goods-may-lead-blacklisting-us-warns-companies-2022-03-07/.

[4] Id.

[5] Associated Press. (2022). “Russian, Belarusian athletes banned from Winter Paralympic Games as IPC reverses ruling.” ESPN. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/olympics/story/_/id/33410388/russian-belarusian-athletes-banned-winter-paralympic-games.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Associated Press. (2022). “More sports ban Russia from competitions amid invasion of Ukraine.” USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2022/03/01/russia-sports-banned-ukraine-invasion/6981640001/.

[10] Maloney, J. (2022). “FIBA suspends Russian teams, officials from international basketball competitions until further notice.” CBS NBA Retrieved from https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/fiba-suspends-russian-teams-officials-from-international-basketball-competitions-until-further-notice/.

[11] Brehm, M. (2022). “International Ice Hockey Federation bans Russia, Belarus teams over Ukraine invasion.” USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/hockey/2022/02/28/russia-belarus-banned-iihf-events-over-ukraine-invasion/6965371001/.

[12] Id.

[13] Ogden, M. (2022). “FIFA suspends Russia from World Cup, UEFA throws teams out of European competition.” ESPN. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/soccer/fifa-world-cup/story/4605670/uefa-removes-russian-teams-from-all-competitions-following-ukraine-invasion.

[14] Hay, A. (2022). “Russian football federation appeals against FIFA and UEFA bans.” The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://theathletic.com/news/russian-football-federation-appeals-against-fifa-and-uefa-bans/sSJuMXBFvpqY/.

[15] Id.

[16] Ogden, supra.

[17] Court of Arbitration for Sport. (2022). “History of the CAS”. https://www.tas-cas.org/en/general-information/history-of-the-cas.html.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Ingle, S. (2022). “Russian gymnast with ‘Z’ symbol on podium next to Ukrainian faces long ban.” The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2022/mar/07/shocking-behaviour-russian-gymnast-shows-z-symbol-on-podium-next-to-ukrainian-winner.

[21] Pells, E. (2021). “EXPLAINER: What’s the history of the Olympics protest rule?” AP. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/article/2020-tokyo-olympics-explainer-protest-rule-racial-injustice-dcb4de638c59b77d259f713af73f5c5a.

[22] Maurice, C. (2016). “Politics And Sport: How FIFA, UEFA And The IOC Regulate Political Statements By Athletes.” Law in Sport. Retrieved from https://www.lawinsport.com/topics/item/politics-and-sport-how-fifa-uefa-and-the-ioc-regulate-political-statements-by-athletes.