PtG Article 27.06.2022

Play the Game 2022 opens with a call to remove Belarussian sports officials

Representatives from the Belarussian Sport Solidarity Foundation spoke about their efforts to help athletes hit by double sanctions – first from their own country and then again in connection with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Officials from Belarussian sports federations should be removed from positions in international federations due to the repression inflicted on the country’s population by president Alexander Lukashenko and his support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Representatives from the Belarussian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), which represents athletes that have taken an active civic stance and signed an anti-war declaration, made the call in the opening session of Play the Game 2022.

The International Olympic Committee recommended that sports federations do ‘not invite or allow’ participation of athletes and officials from Russia and Belarus. Some sports made exceptions, such as the French Open where tennis players from both countries competed as neutral but there is no “effective instrument to implement sanctions” according to the BSSF, which started two years ago in response to Lukashenko’s crackdown after disputed elections that have kept him in power since 1994.

Mikhal Zaleuski, a former chief executive at Belarus’ strongest club BATE Borisov and now running the BSSF, said: “Our Belarus free athletes face double discrimination after the start of the war in Ukraine. In 2020, our free athletes faced discrimination from Lukashenko and in 2022 they have an international ban.”

“We are not satisfied with the sanctions. We should understand that Belarussian federations have their own hierarchy and are under the control of the state. Taking this into account, we do not believe they should represent Belarus in the international sports arena.”

BSSF: Sanctions imposed by the IOC are not enough

In response to questions from the floor at the end of the session, Maryia Zhuravia, a Belarussian sports lawyer from the BSSF, said: “We believe that the sanctions imposed by the IOC and some international federations are not enough. Official representatives should be banned. They have no right to represent Belarussians. We know that some are still members of international federations.”

The BSSF is working to create a sports community with an active political stance and represents 2,154 athletes from the country and abroad. This includes nine Olympic champions and medallists and 143 champions or medallists in World championships from former Belarus national team coach Aliaksandr Khatskevichin to Zhan Beleniuk, a two time Olympic gold medallist in Greco Roman wrestling from Ukraine.

In addition to helping 160 Belarussian athletes, coaches and officials the BSSF have also succeeded in getting four sports tournaments in Belarus cancelled but this opposition has come at a cost as Lukashenko’s crackdown has continued.

22 athletes and sports specialists are in detention

FC Krumkachy, a privately-owned football club that is part of the BSSF campaign, has been targeted. Last August, two players, Pavel Rassolko and Sergei Kozeka, were detained by Belarussian security forces and the latter was severely beaten and suffered a fractured vertebra. Alexandr Ivulin, a popular blogger, who joined Krumkachy to make a series of videos on how to become a professional player, was also detained by the police.

There are currently 22 athletes and sports specialists in detention, including Aliaksandr Danilevich, a sports lawyer and arbitrator at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who represented Krumkachy.

Despite this, Maryia Zhuravia told Play the Game that taking a political stance was the only option for her country’s sportspeople, saying: “Silence is a type of support.”

Watch the session:

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