Banning Russian Triathletes is Not Right

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You may have read posts or news from Ironman, Challenge Family, Super League, and World Triathlon on what measures they’re taking with the crisis in Ukraine.

“In line with the recommendation by the International Olympic Committee and World Triathlon regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competition, The IRONMAN Group, effective immediately, will disallow participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the 2022 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in St. George, Utah and our two IRONMAN World Championship events taking place in St. George, Utah and Kona, Hawai’i.

Furthermore, all Russian and Belarusian professional athletes will be ineligible to race at any 2022 IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon events, including this weekend’s IRONMAN 70.3 Dubai triathlon. No age group participants will be allowed to compete under the Russian or Belarusian flag at any IRONMAN or IRONMAN 70.3 events in 2022.”

-Ironman Facebook Post

I can’t see how banning an entire nationality of athletes can result in any good.

If you would prefer a video version of this, watch the video below.

YouTube player

When it’s the IOC doing it to prevent state-sponsored doping, on the elitist of elite levels (the Olymoics) it’s understandable.

But to tell an age grouper like you or me that he or she can’t race under his or her own flag because we don’t like what their leaders do is something else.

Challenge family hasn’t specified whether they’ll allow Russian or Belarusian athletes to compete, and hasn’t released much on the topic.

World triathlon, as well, is banning the participation of both Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in the sport.

This is on top of their prior suspension of the Russian Triathlon Federation back in December, but that was due to doping.

Neither the Russian Triathlon Federation nor the Belarus Triathlon Federation posted any reaction on their websites or social media, at least that I could find.

Cancelling the Russian races, however, is something I think most people support. Ironman has cancelled the 2022 St. Petersburg 70.3, and Challenge Family has cancelled their upcoming Moscow race.

Ironman and World Triathlon posted these measures on Facebook, and the replies are very opinionated and polarising.

It’s clear that most people are in support of the bans, but many others feel it is simply creating more trouble and divisiveness which we certainly don’t need.

Common objections include:

•            Don’t punish innocent athletes who are likely against this invasion

•            Blanket discrimination based on nationality is wrong (some even call it racism)

•            This just furthers division, and gives Putin more excuses and material for his propaganda

•            This is hypocritical, with the US and other countries having invaded others, and with Ironman having races in Israel and China

On the other hand, supporters of the bans say:

•            This pressures athletes into speaking up in their countries, and we must continue pressure in as many areas as possible. However, I have a very hard time believing these triathletes will suddenly object to Putin because they can’t race

•            It’s actually for the safety of those Russian or Belarusian athletes. This one’s funny – Ironman is now protecting athletes based on nationality by disallowing them from coming to their events where they’ll be ridiculed for their flag.

•            Some people are saying the people are in part to blame for enabling or allowing Putin to be in power, but I hardly think they had a say or that’s how dictatorships work

As I read the Ironman ban, however, it does not actually ban these athletes from competing – only from racing under their flags. I know you can register under any flag (I’ve done it – I accidentally chose “Singapore” once as that is where I live, but I’m American).

I’ve raced under another flag before – anybody can.

So, they can still race, just not under their flags. They can choose any flag, like North Korea, Syria, Afghanistan, or Sudan.

As mentioned, I don’t think anybody has any issues with race cancellations in Russia or banning state-sponsored national athletes – it’s more about punishing age-groupers who are likely just as opposed to this invasion as everybody else.

Ultimately, I think everybody wants the same thing – an end to this conflict – but there are vastly differing opinions on how to apply pressure and who should be penalized.

If it’s any consolation, there weren’t any Belarusian athletes that completed in the world champs in 2019 – 70.3 or Kona. There were 19 Russians at Kona and 77 at the 70.3 world champs.

Of course, the 2022 numbers may be very different.

I do not mean to discount the implications of blanket-banning a nationality by showing how few there are, I just want to have a sense of the actual impact this will have on individual competitors.

I can’t imagine how I’d feel if my nationality was suddenly banned.

When it comes to the pros, this basically ends their careers, at least for 2022.

All Russian and Belarusian pros are going to be disallowed by Ironman in 2022 from racing altogether.

As listed by the PTO, this affects two Belarusian athletes and seven Russians.

In short, I think it’s an extreme measure that overreaches. It’s at best, unfair, at worst discriminatory.

2 responses

  1. Enrico Avatar
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