It is dangerous to talk about Peace when a barbaric mad War waged by a few results in an indiscriminate Hatred against many.
I know that I will be shot at from many sides for speaking up against indiscriminate hate instead of raging against Russians. But it is our responsibility, who live in peaceful corners of the world, to speak up against getting succumbed to hate and to try to make sense of the world. We shall try to steer things in a way that increases the chances of lasting peace instead of engrained animosity.
Putin’s plan works. The old KGB fox knows that people love to hate. Hate makes life easy: pure emotion, no cognition, no reflection. Hate makes life simple: we are good; they are wrong. Hate makes us feel good: at least we are doing something against somebody while watching unfolding horror on TV in our cosy homes.
Exclusion and hate ensure that people don’t talk to each other.
It is the antithesis of sport.
On Monday, 28 February, the IOF Council decided at an extraordinary Council meeting to immediately suspend the membership of the Russian Orienteering Federation for no other reason but for being Russian. With this decision, the IOF Council broke more than 60 years of tradition being a non-political organisation, a tradition maintained through the Cold War and numerous conflicts.
In this post, I would like to show that the IOF used to be above politics even during confrontations between member federations. Now it has become a vehicle for Putin’s plan of hate. Even worse, the Council appears to act without considering the future. Let’s face it, for many IOF countries the involvement in a war is not a question of IF, but WHEN. And then what?
Will our sport no longer act as a bridge for peace above politics but as a tool of punishment – as and when political fashions demand so?
IOF above politics
The IOF used to be a bridge over politics for 60 years. Most of the founding fathers were from opposing military blocks in the midst of the Cold War, only 16 years after a World War. Yet, they wanted to make sure that there was a chance to find friendship through sports.
Legend says that Erik Tobé (SWE), the first President of the IOF, was adamant that sport should be separated from politics. He was upset when the athletes of the GDR could not participate in the 1st European Championship in 1962 because the NATO member Norway refused to issue them a visa.
Until now, there were only two cases in the IOF’s history when member federations attacked member federations: in 1968 and in 1999.
In 1968, when the World Championship was only a month after the occupation of Czechoslovakia when hundreds of civilians were killed and wounded. There were calls to exclude the Bulgarian and the Hungarian teams because both the Bulgarian and the Hungarian armies contributed to the occupying forces. Erik Tobé was instrumental in ensuring that all teams could participate. Sport was above politics.
In 1999 NATO launched an unauthorized bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. Again hundreds of civilians died who were simply referred to as “collateral damage” in NATO’s campaign to destroy bridges and utilities with the objective to paralyze life in Yugoslavia. The Yugoslavian Federation asked the IOF to issue a statement for peace. The IOF declined for being a sports organization, not a political body.
When did the IOF has become a political organisation? What has changed that the IOF is ready to exclude athletes from competitions just because some mad political leaders commit crimes athletes cannot stop?
Putin’s plan succeeds
It could be funny if it would not be so tragic that the IOF Council is just delivering on Putin’s plan. As Mark Galeotti, probably the best Russia analyst these days, writes in his article:
Isolating Russia is exactly Putin’s plan. The Kremlin would be delighted if we treated all 144 million Russians as its willing collaborators. This is soft North Koreanization, and we ought to do what we can to push back.
Russian athletes have as much chance to fight for a regime change as Chinese athletes. When we exclude them from international competitions, their chance will be that of the North Korean athletes fighting for a regime change.
Probably 90% of the Russian population watches only Russian state media these days. Watching the
war in Ukraine special operations in Donbas on Russian TV is a whole different story that one cannot possibly understand if they never lived in Russia. The 10% includes most of the athletes we meet at international events.
Russian athletes are the ones who can act as ambassadors of Western values and views in Russia for the simple reason that they are amongst the few who encounter them.
Putin must be delighted to see them excluded from international competitions.
At a personal level, I am shocked to see how successful was Putin in indoctrinating even people in orienteering (who are far brighter than average folks) with some of the core values of Stalinism: Article 58 of the Soviet Penal Code and the philosophy of Cheka, the predecessor of the NKVD/KGB.
Article 58 on Anti-Soviet activities called for the same punishment for the ones who committed an act the regime did not like, for the ones who planned it, for the ones who contemplated it, and for the ones who were deemed to be in a position that made the authorities believe that they could think about it. This line of thought was perfectly illustrated by the letter of the Ukrainian Federation on Day 1 of the war and also by many Western comments in orienteering social media: If you are Russian, you must be a Putinista, who supports the war in Ukraine and who is delighted to see the destruction and suffering of the innocents. Guilty as charged!
The philosophy of Cheka, the predecessor of the NKVD/KGB, was also straightforward: it is better to see 10 innocents on the Gulag than one anti-soviet element walking free. This is implemented these days with gusto when people talk about the need to exclude all Russian athletes because we cannot possibly know if there is a Putinista or two amongst them who does not condemn the war.
Vladimir Vladimirovich is the undisputable winner when it comes to spreading the philosophy of hate around the World.
The Council, as a responsible body, shall also consider the implications and long term consequences of its decisions. What is the precedent set by this decision?
Does this decision set a precedent for member federations whose country conducts lethal military operations in a foreign country? Let’s face it, for some member federations this is not a question of IF but WHEN. Will we regularly miss our American and Turkish friends, amongst others?
Does this decision set a precedent only for lethal military operations in Europe? Or only military operation against a country of a member federation that counts? Or is it restricted to military operations by Russia against a country of a member federation?
Most importantly, does this decision open a new era of the IOF where moral values will be assessed by the Council and athletes from countries whose leaders do not live up to standards set by the Council will be excluded?
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Whichever way it works out, this looks like a new area in the history of the IOF. Our sport may no longer act as a bridge of peace between people who may never meet each other otherwise. It may well turn into a device of exclusion and hate, a tool in the hands of political agendas set by various political powers.