Status: 04.05.2022 06:00 AM
Alexander Abekin is disappointed. He and his colleagues at the Belarusian Sportsmen’s Organization BSSF have been among the most vocal critics of Governor Alexander Lukashenko for years, and quite a few of them have had to go to prison because of it. Since great ally Russia invaded Ukraine, athletes have peacefully protested Putin’s brutal war of aggression.
But, despite all the courageous opposition, representatives of the “Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation” were also affected by the mass ban imposed by almost all world federations on Russian and Belarusian athletes due to the war. BSSF President Apeikin sees this as unfair – and wants to fight it.
‘The Olympic world must be restored’
Next week, the BSSF wants to publish an announcement in which about 150 prominent athletes from Belarus should speak out against the war by name. The text of the draft text titled “Make Sport Not War” (Sports Not War) available for sports viewing: “We demand a cessation of military action against Ukraine and the withdrawal of forces”: “We recognize the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders and support the sovereignty of Belarus”, BSSF writes: “The Olympic world must be restored.”
With this announcement, Apeikin and his colleagues want to increase pressure on international federations to create exceptions to the rule that now bans hundreds of athletes around the world from playing their profession. Former handball professional Apeikin believes in the effect of the public statement: “It can be a real opportunity.”
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Athletes are also under financial pressure
It points to the difficult situation of many top Belarusian athletes, who are also under increasing financial pressure due to a lack of government support and international exclusion. According to Abeken, many are willing to take a personal risk by signing the declaration.
Since the protests began after Lukashenko’s fraudulent re-election in the summer of 2020, more than 35,000 opponents of the regime have been arrested in Belarus, including dozens of athletes. BSSF members are under special surveillance. As a constant reminder against the violations, it played a key role in the fact that the IOC sanctioned Lukashenko’s NOK at the end of 2020 after long hesitation, or that Belarus was not allowed to host the 2021 Ice Hockey World Championships.
Recently, sanctions against Russian and Belarusian athletes have fueled discussions. In tennis, which is one of the few sports that has not been completely banned, there has been open resistance to the Wimbledon particular track. In the most important tennis tournament in the world, players from the aggressor countries are not allowed to start. Superstars Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, among others, criticized the decision.
Many representatives of athletes found the contradiction between the complete ban on athletes and the ban on officials and employees even more incomprehensible. Of the 40 federations represented at the upcoming Summer and Winter Olympics, only seven have banned Russian and Belarusian officials from all activities: athletics, rowing, rugby, sports climbing, biathlon, bobsleigh, and water skis. The impression is that the athletes have to pay more than the officials.
It is doubtful whether the announcement of the Belarusian athletes will change anything.