In the Loop: First of all, how dare you?

IOC President Thomas Bach strikes again by officially recommending the inclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes, paving the way for their participation in Paris 2024.

Putin is meeting with the IOC President Bach. They are sitting down and both in black suits with a Russian flag and Olympic flag behind them.

“In the Loop” is a column by Valerie Fang dedicated to the sport of figure skating.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has recently issued a series of official recommendations that, if adopted by its member sports federations, would allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to international competitions. These recommendations indicate that athletes with Russian or Belarusian passports must compete as “Individual Neutral Athletes.” While Thomas Bach, the President of the IOC, dodged the question of whether Russian and Belarusian athletes can compete in next year’s Summer Olympic Games, the recommendations conveniently came in the middle of the qualifying period. Essentially, the athletes would be allowed to earn places at those qualifying competitions, opening a path to Paris 2024.

I wrote an article a while back when the IOC first released a statement in January saying that they were considering the possibility of including Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competitions. I still stand by what I wrote in that article.

Figure skating has been widely regarded as Russia’s national sport. Similar to how chess was once deployed as political propaganda by the Soviet Union, Russia’s dominance in figure skating in recent years is being used by the government as a means to project national power, boost national pride and even advance political goals. The Russian government has poured significant resources into training programs and facilities. By promoting the development of young skaters, especially in the discipline of women’s skating, Russia is able to demonstrate the country’s athletic superiority and cultural sophistication. Moreover, Russian officials have often used figure skating competitions as an opportunity to engage in high-level diplomacy with other countries, leveraging the popularity of the sport to build relationships and advance their foreign policy objectives. Given this politicized context surrounding Russian figure skating, I am worried that the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes would restore Russia’s international influence to an extent, leading to more aggressive measures on Ukraine.

According to today’s news, the recently appointed President of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia (FFKKR), Anton Sikharulidze, claimed that “many international officials are keen for the return of Russian competitors despite the country’s invasion of Ukraine,” and “has pledged to maintain contact with the International Skating Union (ISU).” Please, take care of Kamila Valieva’s doping scandal before you demand for more. Olympic team figure skaters are still waiting on their medals from Beijing 2022 because the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) is too busy with trying to protect the skater, delaying the process of reaching a just decision on the future of this 16-year-old who has been championed as a national hero back in Russia. The latest status of Valieva’s doping case is that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is appealing RUSADA’s questionable decision of “no fault” to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which will take at least another several months.

Ultimately, I am once more disappointed in Bach’s hypocrisy. Even before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia should have received a harsher punishment than competing as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) for its state-sponsored doping program. Nothing has changed for the Russian athletes and they are still cheating. Now, Bach is again choosing leniency towards Russia and seems to be not considering any negative complications the IOC’s decisions might cause.

The ISU will convene in June to decide whether or not the figure skating governing body will adopt the official recommendations. Considering how the ISU has already opened its door to Russian skating representatives, I predict that, yes, the ISU will allow Russian and Belarusian skaters to gradually return to the game. With a heavy heart, we will stay tuned.

“In the Loop” runs every other Tuesday.