Sun, 22 May 2022

How have Russia-Ukraine tensions affected sport

RT.com
26 Jan 2022, 04:13 GMT+10

A new row over the Winter Olympic Games follows numerous divisive incidents

The reported order by Ukraine's Sports Minister Vadim Gutzeit to the country's sports stars not to be photographed with Russian rivals at the Beijing Winter Olympics is just the latest in a serious of curious incidents involving athletes from the two countries.

Gutzeit's apparent insistence follows a series of controversies and rows, ranging from the unwitting to the overtly provocative.

Here are some of the themes.

Ukrainian sportspeople have been warned about fraternizing

Perhaps the most enraged political response to stars from the two countries posing together came at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, when Ukraine's defense minister issued a stern rebuke - contentiously referring to a "Russian-Ukrainian war" - in summoning high jump bronze winner Yaroslava Mahuchikh to explain herself after being pictured embracing Russian champion and fellow army athlete Maria Lasitskene.

Some fans also reacted with outrage and called the pair traitors, but several athletes and politicians publicly pushed back against those accusations and backed the mutually-admiring medalists, who were again pictured together after the Olympics.

The response caused Ukrainian Paralympian Ihor Tsvietov to refuse to join his Russian sprint rivals for a snap on the medal podium, having been pictured alongside them at a previous event.

Premier League champion Oleksandr Zinchenko was warned that he was failing to "defend the honor" of Ukraine by posing with Russian UFC great Khabib Nurmagomedov at a match in England.

"I wish you good luck in everything," undeterred Nurmagomedov wrote in the caption to another portrait of the pair together. "Even if someone doesn't like it."

Football teams have been kept apart

The most notable example of Ukrainian and Russian teams being separated is in football, with European administrative body UEFA making an emergency ruling in 2014 that the countries would not be allowed to play each other.

Russia and Ukraine had only played each other once before that, when they met in two matches in qualifying for EURO 2000.

The nations could have collided in the knockout stage of EURO 2020, when the Russian government said that there would be no untoward tensions if the fixture was to materialize.

Most recently, a 'prohibited team clash' rule meant that Russia and Ukraine could not have been drawn together in the draw for the Qatar 2022 World Cup playoffs.

There have been political gestures in sport involving Russia and Ukraine

Russia and Ukraine's participation at EURO 2020 was prefaced by a row over a shirt design unveiled by Ukraine just days before the tournament was due to start in June 2021.

Then-manager Andriy Shevchenko and national football bosses proudly paraded the shirt, which included a map of the Crimea and the nationalistic slogans 'glory to Ukraine' and 'glory to the heroes'.

UEFA told Ukraine to cover up the latter slogan, which is associated with World War II Nazi sympathizers, saying it was "clearly political in nature" - and politicians accused the design of disrespecting people who had died.

The Ukrainian Premier League reportedly ordered clubs to wear a badge bearing the slogans on their kits ahead of the 2021/22 season. That resulted in a Jewish leader reiterating the purported links to World War II.

Russian and Ukrainian stars have faced consequences

There are plenty of examples of footballers from both nations playing in each country - Zinchenko, who moved from Ukrainian giants Shakhtar Donetsk to Russian Premier League side Ufa as a prospect, among them - and a few flashpoints along the way.

Long-serving Ukraine defender Yaroslav Rakitskiy received criticism and was dropped from the national team after he signed for current Russian champions Zenit St. Petersburg in 2019, and Ukraine insisted that the decision was not political when several internationals playing in Russia were left out of a squad in 2016.

In December 2021, Ukrainian Premier League team NK Veres Rivne were punished by national football bosses after their players reportedly held interviews in Russian following a recent match, causing the club to offer to arrange lessons in Ukrainian for any players who felt they spoke the language to an "insufficient" level.

Boxing world champion Oleksandr Usyk said recently that he has missed out on millions of dollars of sponsorship deals because of accusations that the Crimean-born fighter has declined to condemn Russia after the peninsula overwhelming voted to become part of the country in a 2014 referendum.

(RT.com)

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