I’ve been a sports fan since my childhood, thanks to my dad who always brought to me a bunch of sports newspapers. We lived in a small town in the middle of Siberia where there was no internet, so that was the only source of information during those years. And, of course, every Olympic Game was a big, special event for me — I remember the final of the 1998 Olympic Games when Russia lost to Czech Republic with an incredible Dominik Hasek, and more recently a defeat to team Canada in the quarterfinal of the hockey tournament at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Honestly, it wasn’t only about the hockey. I tried to watch almost everything kind of sports at the Olympics; I just loved the atmosphere and the spirit of the Games.
I’ve never considered myself as a big patriot. But being a sports fan was one of the few ways to feel connected with my country, even when I moved to another one. And actually, that was one of the few reasons to be proud of modern Russia.
I bet that I’m not the only one who understands this, but also some people in Russian government. Sports achievement was always a big part of propaganda in Russia. Every big trophy by a Russian team was used to distract attention of Russians from real problems. For example, in 2014 Russia won the World Championship after losing at the domestic Olympics. It was covered as big revenge by Russian media, although Russia was the only side who brought their biggest stars to the WC.
When first doping scandal hits Russia in 2014, I think everyone in Russia took it as a joke. And no one could really imagine where it would lead in just a couple of years. I don’t really want to talk about if the charges are truthful or if there is some kind of state-run doping program in Russia. But for me, as an ordinary sports fan, it was a really tough time.
It’s really hard to see your favorite athletes being accused of using some doping. When people you were rooting for got a disqualification, it felt like a personal shock. You feel deceived and maybe even ashamed. I’ve read a lot of interviews where foreign athletes tell me that they don’t want to compete with “dirty” Russians just because they don’t believe them.
So, it’s really hard to be a Russian sports fan these days.
After all of this, the fact that Russia was banned from competing under their flag at the Olympics wasn’t really a surprise. Actually, everyone was preparing for the stricter sanctions.
There is a discussion in Russia that it’s a shame to compete under the neutral flag and maybe there are some who would consider it a conspiracy against Russia. It’s a popular tendency in Russia to dream up some enemies and not to solve our own problems. And I’m pretty sure that nothing will change and there will be no internal investigation in Russian sport.
But I’m not the person who’s going to blame athletes for competing under the neutral flag, because they are the ones who are ruining their health and time by endless trainings, and this is maybe the only opportunity for the big part of them to compete at the Olympics. For example, since NHL banned their players from participating at the Olympic Games, some Russian hockey players returned to Russia just to have a chance to play at Pyeongchang. Everyone knows that this is a real chance for them to win the gold medal, because the Russian side will be the strongest at the Olympics.
In the end, I just want to remind what the Olympic Charter says about this situation: “The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries.”
Let’s just hope that someday sports and politics will be fully separated.