Russia and group sports. Another challenge for the IOC

Without Olympism on the horizon, young Russians could end up turning their backs on a significant number of disciplines in which that country has an outstanding history.

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SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23:  The Olympic flag and Russian flag are raised as the Russian National Anthem is sung during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23: The Olympic flag and Russian flag are raised as the Russian National Anthem is sung during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

There are those who say that uncertainty is worse than bad news.

A few days ago, the IOC ended uncertainty regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in Paris 2024, something that will surely represent bad news for those who, not without reason, consider everything related to the war aggression against Ukraine unacceptable.

The positive side is that we already have a definition in this regard, that those who aspire to participate in the Parisian event can now concentrate on it and that those who disagree with the decision can process the measure to be adopted in a timely manner. Meaning: refusing to compete in France.

On top of that, the IOC resolution established a precedent that can simplify decision-making regarding potential similar conflicts, which are increasingly common in our post-pandemic world. However, since no complex decision is perfect, the future poses an extra challenge to sports federations, to Olympism as a framework institution and, especially, to all Russian sports.

One of the first conditions imposed by the IOC is that only athletes can participate in individual disciplines.

We have already talked about it: What Russian child will be encouraged to join a collective sport if the conflict and restrictions were maintained over time? How popular will disciplines such as basketball, volleyball, water polo, handball and even artistic swimming remain without the Olympic goal on the horizon?

Logically, one would say that the war should not continue over the years and years; let’s admit that reality hits us in the face and that the battle has been going on for much longer than we could have imagined.

As if to give concrete form to the theory, I propose that you review the Russian influence in group sports, not at the time of the Cold War, but during the last four games. I’m only talking about medals, which represents a very specific vision of the subject, but it doesn’t give the final result of such a sporting power either.

Beijing 2008. Russia finished third in the medal table with 60 medals. Label considering collective disciplines, the highest podiums in artistic swimming, handball, volleyball, basketball and rhythmic gymnastics.

London 2012. 4th with 66 medals including those achieved in artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, volleyball, artistic swimming and basketball.

Rio 2016. 4th with 56 medals including those for handball, water polo, fencing, artistic swimming, artistic gymnastics and rhythmic gymnastics.

Tokyo 2020. 5th with 71 medals including artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, 3x3 basketball, fencing, volleyball and, if not, artistic swimming, the discipline that, by far, will suffer the most in the absence of incomparable Russian athletes.

As an inventory, this is overwhelming data. So much so as to consider it homework on the way no longer to Paris but to Los Angeles 2028.