Nigel Huddleston MP, the British Minister for Sport, has suggested that Russian athletes may have to denounce Vladimir Putin to be allowed to play in competitions in the United Kingdom.
Speaking to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Huddleston said that the British government was looking into what to do with Russian and Belarusian athletes, who already have to compete under a neutral flag in sports competitions in the UK and across the world.
“Absolutely, nobody flying the flag for Russia should be allowed or enabled [to take part], many sports people have multiple or dual citizenships. Many of us would be willing and able to compete as non-aligned, non-flag-bearing entities, but I think it needs to go beyond that,” Huddleston said in a response to a question from Steve Brine MP.
“We need some potential assurance that they are not supporters of Vladimir Putin and we are considering what requirements we may need to try and get some assurances along those lines. In short, would I be comfortable with a Russian athlete flying the Russian flag? No,” Huddleston added.
Brine brought up the case of current tennis world number one Daniil Medvedev, and compared the banning of Novak Djokovic from Australia over the covid vaccine to Medvedev’s relatively neutral stance on the conflict in Ukraine. “Invading a sovereign country in hostile act, if you’re a supporter of that country, that would be a problem wouldn’t it?” Brine asked.
“I think you’ve just answered your own question. I don’t think that would be acceptable,” Huddleston replied.
Our session on Russian disinformation about #Ukraine and sanctions in sport will be starting at 10am.
Watch live here 👇 https://t.co/bcqAkXW4td
— Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (@CommonsDCMS) March 15, 2022
Later reports suggested that this was a “live debate” within the UK government, as many inside the government recognised a desire not to punish all Russians, and that denouncing Putin may put the athletes in danger at home.
Marta Kostyuk, a Ukrainian tennis player, had previously attacked Russian players at the Indian Wells Open last week, who said that their presence at the tournament “really hurt” her. “You cannot be neutral in this,” Kostyuk said.
“These ‘no war’ statements hurt me because they have no substance. Seeing players [from Russia] on-site really hurts me. And seeing them having the only problem not being able to transfer the money and stuff – that’s what they are talking about – this is unacceptable for me,” she added.
“What’s going on is not a secret. You don’t have to be into politics to know what’s going on, to know who invaded who, who is bombing who.”
However, Huddleston’s comments also resulted in serious backlash from many others online, including former MP George Galloway, who quipped that the decision if gone ahead with would result in “Advantage McCarthyism,” with others highlighting that no other athletes from repressive regimes are forced to attack their governments in order to play.
Advantage McCarthyism… https://t.co/Wq8BBlKfEv
— George Galloway (@georgegalloway) March 15, 2022
And how is this any better than Putin forcing athletes to publicly pledge allegiance to Russia?
Did anyone stop to think what the consequences for Medvedev and his family could be if he does this? https://t.co/Sh2o16KfQa
— Jen Monroe (@thatjenmonroe) March 15, 2022
Can they make the same rule for US athletes so that they can provide “assurances” that they don’t support Biden for bombing children in Yemen
Or Opelka and Brooksby must also provide assurances for not supporting Bush? https://t.co/jQnNqzv1XN
— JB (@Brar_JSB) March 15, 2022
The insanity deepens. Was the Union Jack the personal property of war criminal Tony Blair when he was prime minister? What about the Israeli flag? Or the US flag? There have been lots of war criminals in each of those governments. Shouldn't their sports people be barred too? https://t.co/VwBBQuFcWN
— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) March 15, 2022