Historically, there have been lots of reasons to ban Russians from competing in sporting events. This year’s Olympic team couldn’t even compete under the Russian Flag, and winners did not have the Russian anthem played because of doping violations. Such punishments are justified because there is a direct connection between the athletes’ conduct and the sanction. Now with the war in Ukraine, bans have expanded because of Russia’s aggression.
The Boston Marathon just banned athletes from Russia and Belarus from competing. This decision belies common sense. Such a move is symbolic as it will not change Vladimir Putin’s decision calculus one way or another. None of the athletes involved were consulted about the invasion but were punished by association. Banned only because of their nationality. Such moves may have the opposite intended effect.
President Putin’s popularity is rising in Russia. The reason for this is the sentiment now is what does the country have to lose given the extreme sanctions. Might as well win the war in spite of the pressure, versus buckling because of it. It is not just sporting events banning Russians. Airbnb has banned Russian and Belarus nationals from utilizing its services. Disney, Google, and Apple have paused their services in Russia as well.
From a geopolitical perspective these types of sanctions do not serve the interests of the United States. They drive Russia closer to our rising enemy China. Indeed, the cooperation between the two countries has never been tighter.
The groupthink is not limited to Russia, however. Two Ukrainian Grandmaster Chess players have been banned from competition for their refusal to sign a letter condemning the war. Western journalists who have questioned the wisdom of courting direct military conflict with a nuclear armed Russia have been branded Putin apologist, or worse, traitors to the cause.
Examining the conflict through all perspectives as part of determining what action to take would seem to be a sober course. Both sides of the aisle in the United States seem to be on the same war trajectory ignoring any forms of dissent. Arguing over if we should be banning Russian athletes may soon seem to be a quaint data point from the past.