James Hawkins, of St. Louis, Missouri, was a prominent lawyer, and figure, in sports law. At 94, he wrote the following piece which may be of interest for those involved in sports law, and on the permanently sensitive relationship between sport and politics. This post expresses Jim Hawkins’ views.
2014 – CRIMEA
Sochi Russia – Feb 6-23, 2014: Russian President V. Putin was a prominent figure at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games. Sochi is a modest-sized Russian port on the Black Sea in the Caucasus region. It is near Crimea, the historic Black Sea peninsula that in early 2014 was part of an independent country, Ukraine.[i] The Sochi Games were my 11th (the first was 1960) – attended always as a USA or International Skating Union (ISU) sport official.[ii] It is clear now, that due to 2016 public disclosures, unknown to us during the Sochi Olympics, there is credible proof that Sochi competition results were severely corrupted by ultra-secret Russian-state political/sport power. Sochi also was, without doubt, more expensive and extravagant than any prior Olympic Winter Games. Sochi’s elaborate sport venues and competitions, plus huge ceremonies and jingoistic productions, were powerfully displayed on worldwide TV. The Sochi Olympics truly occupied the attention of the World’s mass-media and audiences during January and February of 2014. Meanwhile, in a murky and secret background, shocking Russian international sport and political activities were taking place. These activities are the subject of this article.
Saturday, February 22, 2014: On this day, the removal from office of the pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was the subject of a Washington Post article by its London Bureau Chief, William Booth stating, in part: “In an emergency session, the Ukrainian parliament voted 380 to 0 on Saturday to remove Yanukovych from office, saying he was guilty of gross human rights violations and dereliction of duty. Many of Yanukovych’s allies were absent or abstained from voting.” V. Putin reportedly raised the issue of Russian annexation of the Crimea at a night meeting called to discuss the dramatic events occurring in Ukraine on Saturday, February 22, 2014. Putin is reported to have stated at the meeting: « we must start working on returning Crimea to Russia ».[iii]
February 27, 2014, four days after the February 23 closing of the Sochi Olympic Winter Games, Russia invaded and occupied Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Thereafter, a so-called Referendum was held in Crimea. According to official Russian and Crimean sources 95% voted to reunite with Russia.[iv]
Questions: How did the World react to the 2014 Crimea annexation by Russia? How did the UN, EU, NATO, the IOC, etc. treat this aggression in 2014? Later, what was the reaction to the 2016 proof of the 2014 Russian state-sponsored system to “dope” Russian athletes and to manipulate their blood and urine samples as documented in the WADA McLaren reports of July 2016[v],?
We know that the Russian state invested billions of Euros/Dollars in Sochi’s palace-like structures and infrastructure improvements, some of which were later dismantled or demolished. Did the extravagant, colorful Sochi Olympic Winter Games provide “neutralizing cover” for Putin’s annexation plan? [vi]
Answers: By July of 2016 the glow and glamour of the Sochi Olympics had largely faded. The World did not seem to know that WADA existed in 2016, and little attention was given by its power-politicians and media to the lengthy, detailed 2016 WADA McLaren Reports.[vii] Would a strong 2016 adverse World reaction to Russia’s deliberate state-sponsored Sochi Olympic cheating and to Russia´s annexation of Crimea have affected the Russian 2022 aggression against Ukraine?
Answer: In my opinion, YES! If in 2016 drastic IOC penalties, plus World Sport Federation sanctions, were issued and enforced excluding ALL Russian athletes from all international competitions, including, but not limited to, all World, European and other sport-Tournaments, Championships, the Olympic Summer/Winter Games, World Cup Football, etc. such actions would have been effective. Other international bodies would follow the lead of the sport bodies.
2022 – UKRAINE – CRIMEA REPLICATED?
On February 4, 2022 the Beijing Olympic Winter Games opened with great fanfare in the capital of China; those Games ended on February 20, 2022. V. Putin attended the Beijing Opening – as one of a few of the World’s top politicians to do so – and praised Russian-Chinese friendship and cooperation. On February 24, 2022, four days after the close of the Beijing Games, Russia invaded the independent nation of Ukraine claiming, inter alia, it was saving Ukraine from Nazi-type political control. The IOC and many governments, individuals and institutions have condemned this invasion as an unjustified attack on a sovereign nation. The invasion was a clear violation by Russia of the so-called United Nations Olympic Truce “resolution”.[viii] Did Putin believe: ”It worked for Crimea in 2014. Let’s do it again – this time for the whole of Ukraine!”? The 2022 invasion, and the devastation and death of the war in the Ukraine, has provoked a strong World reaction resulting in heavy economic, travel and political sanctions against the governments and officials of both Russia and Belarus.
Questions: Did the IOC 2019 “punishment” of Russia’s cheating[ix], consisting of a cosmetic « slap on the wrist” excluding the Russian Olympic Teams but allowing Russian athletes to participate under a different name, plus the apparent indifference of the rest of the World to Russia’s state-sponsored sport-cheating, embolden Putin and his cohorts to dare the 2022 invasion?
Answers: YES! A total block in 2016, or even 2019, on any Russian athlete’s participation in international sport would have caused a massive political problem for V. Putin and his minions. The Russian people are avid, dedicated sport fans; the shock would have been huge and effective.
Questions: On January 19, 2022, about 36 days before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, U.S. President Biden suggested NATO members would be divided about how to respond if Russian forces made what he called a « minor incursion » into Ukraine. The Ukraine President, Volodymyr Zelensky immediately, and famously, responded that there are « no minor incursions”. Did Biden’s unnecessary statement in January 2022 help confirm V. Putin’s reliance on western indifference and aversion to conflict? Was the tepid, apathetic response of the IOC and the World to the shocking 2016 WADA disclosures of arrogant 2014 Russian state-sponsored Olympic/Sport cheating understood by V. Putin, and other Russian decision-makers, as typical Western weakness? What if the World’s reaction in 2016 and thereafter had been imposition of severe sanctions – or at least sanctions comparable to those imposed in 2022? Would that have blocked the 2022 Russian aggression against Ukraine? Did the media’s voracious appetite for sport “content”, and related revenues, suppress public consideration and advocacy of more severe Russian sanctions? Did the World’s political apathy, plus its addiction to TV “sports and entertainment”, contribute to major Russian miscalculations, devastation and death in Ukraine? Have we learned anything about dealing with Russia in 2022?[x]
Answers: Yes and Possibly: The IOC’s feeble Sochi “sanctions” for outrageous Russian sport corruption, belatedly applied in 2019, were totally ineffective.
On March 28, 2023 the IOC formally recommended (to its recognized Federations and the World) allowing the return to international sporting competitions of athletes with a Russian or a Belarusian passport if they compete only as “Individual Neutral Athletes” without national uniforms, colors, flags, etc. displayed. Now, after more than a year of cruel, merciless war, death and injury, the IOC is attempting to adopt a similar-type cosmetic entry policy for Russian and Belarusian athletes for future events. While J. Biden’s remark possibly confirmed Putin’s USSR-era-view of Western weakness, a renewal of the IOC cosmetic entry policy for Paris 2024 Olympic Summer Games and other competitions will be understood as proof of Western weakness. Putin and his oligarchs will rejoice! The money-interests of the world’s sports/media/advertising empires, eager for high-level profitable TV content, will celebrate! It will debase the actual 2022 sanctions response to Russian aggression. Others will attempt to soften the sanctions to advance their special interests. If sport is OK, why not international commerce, media, education, tourism, etc.? Putin has cynically exploited the success and popularity of the Olympic games as a distraction to serve his geopolitical goals. The IOC and all international sport-bodies should compound and accelerate the pressure Putin is facing at home by excluding indefinitely all Russian athletes from all international events.
James Hawkins, St. Louis, Mo. USA, – April 1, 2023
[i] . Sochi was the site of one of Stalin’s many residences, and before WWII, his favorite. See: STALIN – The Court of the Red Tsar – Author: Simon Seabag Montefiore – Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc,, New York.
[ii] On 28 February, 2022 the Executive Board of the IOC took an “ad hoc decision to withdraw the Olympic Order” previously awarded by the IOC to Vladimir Putin.
[iii] Interfax-Ukraine Feb 14, 2018: In testimony given in the 2018 Ukrainian treason trial of Viktor Yanukovych in Kyiv’s Obolonsky District Court, ex-Russian Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev testified that Putin raised the question of Russia’s annexation of Crimea on the night of February 22-23, 2014.
[iv] Question: A Russian copy of Hitler’s Anschluss of Austria in March of 1938?
[v] The revelations of the former Director of the Moscow Anti-doping Lab, Grigory Rodchenkov were reported in the New York Times on May 12, 2016. These revelations formed the basis for the Bryan Fogel-NETFLIX movie ICARUS, released January 20, 2017. They helped immensely to more-fully reveal not only the Russian cheating at Sochi but details of the modern history of Russian doping methods at prior Olympic and international athletic events. G. Rodchenkov is reported to be living in the USA as a protected person in the U.S. Witness Protection program.
[vi] Was Russia creating a huge, deceptive Potemkin Village for projection on the World’s TV and computer platforms?
[vii] The modern history of Russian-state sport cheating is summarized in the following quote from the 2016 WADA McLaren Report #2:
- This systematic and centralised cover up and manipulation of the doping control process evolved and was refined over the course of its use at London 2012 Summer Games, Universiade Games 2013, Moscow IAAF World Championships 2013, and the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. The evolution of the infrastructure was also spawned in response to WADA regulatory changes and surprise interventions.
[viii] Through its resolution 48/11 of 25 October 1993, the United Nations General Assembly urged Member States to observe the Olympic Truce from the seventh day before the opening to the seventh day following the closing of each Olympic Games.
[ix] A New York Times article of December 9, 2019 reported upon the cosmetic ban as follows:
The ban comes four years after the first details of a conspiracy that peaked at the 2014 Sochi Olympics were made public, and only months after more recent revelations of a failed Russian cover-up that involved the manipulation of test results. The punishment was hailed by some as a tough step, though many declared it insufficient as a deterrent; some critics and athletes have called instead for a blanket ban with no exceptions.
[x] See: Interview with Andrei Kozyrev: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/andrei-kozyrev-russian-ex-foreign-minister-the-concern-is-whether-the-west-has-finally-learned-the-lesson/ar-AAW9EYQ?cvid=4c0070324d8c4359806c71a92b0cf736&ocid=winp1taskbar