Athletes should never pay the price for a conflict of their government – ANCOA

All the travesty of justice takes place under the umbrella of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a mother body under the presidency of Thomas Bach that has failed dismally to treat all affiliates equally and fairly.

All the travesty of justice takes place under the umbrella of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a mother body under the presidency of Thomas Bach that has failed dismally to treat all affiliates equally and fairly.

Published Apr 28, 2024


THE PARIS Olympics, better-known as the Paris Summer Games 2024, have opened more questions about the interference of politics in sport.

But then again, there is always a silver lining in every dark cloud, isn’t it?

The Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA), representing more than 50 individual national Olympic associations across the continent, has taken umbrage with the continued discrimination against the Russian and Belarusian athletes in world sport.

Organisers of the Paris Olympics, supported by other Western national associations, had made it categorically clear that they would not welcome athletes from both Russia and neighbouring Belarus.

Reason? The conflict in Ukraine. The French, like their allies in the West, have literally treated athletes from the two countries as complicit to Russia’s “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine, as Moscow describes it.

Quite clearly, the French Olympic authorities have allowed geopolitics to rear their ugly head in matters where they need not get involved.

Most Western governments have subscribed to the US-led economic sanctions against Russia and, to a varying degree, Belarus for the country’s perceived support of Russia in the geopolitical conflict.

Now, sport is supposed to bring people together. It is duty-bound to foster global social cohesion and create conducive atmosphere aimed at enhancing people-to-people diplomacy.

By its very nature, sport in general and Olympics in particular bear a heavy apolitical cross that need not in law and morality discriminate any athlete on the basis on the politics of their respective nation, or country.

The radical posture first adopted by the French Olympic authorities had sought to completely bar the Russia and Belarusian athletes from competing in the Summer Paris Olympics scheduled to take place from July 26-August 1.

But Africa, oftentimes non-aligned in East-West conflict, has once again proffered good logic that should be heeded by all the sports-loving masses around the world.

Following ANOCA’s recent Athletes’ Forum in Algiers, the body expressed partial satisfaction that finally, athletes from Russia and Belarus would be allowed to participate in the summer games in Paris.

The voice of the Majority World, or the global south, is growing louder by the day in the international world order characterised by lopsided ideological considerations.

After much push-back against the decision to bar innocent Russian and Belarusian athletes from Paris in a couple of months, a compromise was reached. The French Olympic authorities will now allow for their participation – with restrictions.

These include, notably, that whereas all participating athletes will be allowed to hoist high the flags of their respective nations, the same privilege will be denied the Russian and Belarusian athletes.

They have categorised uniquely as “neutrals”, their true identity snatched away in a clear unadulterated case of politics interfering in sport. The innocent athletes will on arrival in Paris and throughout their stay – predictably a horrible stay - be regarded as athletes of no fixed abode, of no nationality!

This is the issue ANOCA was displeased with. In a communique after the Algiers meeting, the continental Olympic body explained: “It should be noted that some of our athlete representatives asked that the Russian and Belarusian athletes return to international competitions without any restrictions – meaning participate under their national flag and anthem.”

The erudite African Olympic body, no doubt expressing a standpoint resonating much across the Majority World, added: “ANOCA would like to reiterate that athletes should never pay the price of a conflict their government is involved in.”

It is a great pity that Western sporting bodies have allowed themselves to be infiltrated by politics. Politicians come and go, but sport is forever. Sport is fundamental, the glue that keep the channels of communications among and between people from different backgrounds – culture, custom, nationality, religion, etc – to mingle freely as equal human beings competing in the most convivial spirit and rarefied atmosphere.

That the French and other Western sporting organisations have elected to mimic their sectarian governments, many driven by a deep sense of Russophobia, is regrettable in the extreme.

The double-standards of the French Olympic Committee and their allies in the EU and other Western capitals have been laid bare by the manner in which they treat Israel differently.

Let me juxtapose the two examples of Russia’s war with Ukraine and Israel’s genocide in Gaza. Russia’s athletes have been made to bear the brunt of their government’s actions, in spite the universal acknowledgement that sport is inherently independent of politics.

Conversely, Israeli athletes will be laid a red carpet on arrival in Paris, just as they are feted elsewhere in the West. They will host the Israeli flag, and their national anthem will be sung and applauded.

This royal treatment that awaits Israeli athletes will take place in spite of the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ’s) ruling in January that it was “plausible” Tel Aviv was involved in genocide in Gaza.

Since October 7, Israel has killed more than 34 000 Palestinians and destroyed the entire settlement of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Defence Force has razed to the ground residential areas, schools, refugee camps, hospitals, universities and industrial areas.

Israel has killed more than 15 000 children amid their relentless bombardment and shelling of Gaza. Additionally, more than 10 000 women and thousands of other men with no ties to Hamas have also been killed.

Unknown thousands of Palestinians remain trapped under heaps of rubble. Graves have been dug out in the most cruel way and corpses left exposed.

Only this week, nearly 400 bodies were exhumed in mass graves on the grounds of two hospitals until recently besieged by the IDF. Some of the exhumed bodies were those of children and women.

Others were buried with their hands tied, and some had limbs missing, including untraceable heads. In the occupied territories, Israeli settlers backed by the IDF run a reign of terror, systematically killing and uprooting defenceless locals.

They burn shops, use caterpillars and other heavy machinery to dig out the roads, and undertaking any act of humiliation and de-humanisation of the Palestinians is the IDF’s stock-in-trade.

I paint this gory scenario to make my case about the Western double-standards. The lives of the Palestinians mean nothing to them. Israel is insulated from diplomatic consequence management through the US-led blind and boundless support.

All the travesty of justice takes place under the umbrella of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a mother body under the presidency of Thomas Bach that has failed dismally to treat all affiliates equally and fairly.

I may also add that the Western double-standards extend to football, where Israeli football has become the only Middle Eastern federation to be accepted into Europe.

As a result, Israeli teams compete in European football competitions and despite the on-going genocide in Gaza, Israeli teams have not been suspended from participation, as is the case with the Russian football teams.

Like the African athletes represented by ANOCA, athletes in the West should also take a stance and show their solidarity with their colleagues from Russia and Belarus.

All around the world, athletes share one ideology, and that is to train hard in their sporting code and test their skill against the very best at events such as the Paris Olympics in July-August.

Athletes must refuse to discriminate against each other regardless of their race, gender, creed or nationality. They must refuse to be dragged into politics by their national governments.

Instead, they must strive to test their ability against the very best in the field at every opportunity, undeterred by the nastiness of nefarious politicians.

* Abbey Makoe is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief: Global South Media Network

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