Under Neutral Flag in Paris: Russian military in the Olympics

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Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine actualized the issue of Russian athletes participating in the Olympic Games. After all, waging an aggressive war directly contradicts the values of peace and respect for human dignity enshrined in the Olympic Charter. Moreover, the sports movement in Russia is extremely militarized and ideological. The Kremlin long ago turned participation in international competitions into a weapon in the information war

That is why in December 2022, the International Olympic Committee decided to suspend the national teams of Russia and the Republic of Belarus from participating in the 2024 Games in Paris. Citizens of states that are accomplices in the aggression against Ukraine were allowed to compete only in a neutral status.

That is when the IOC requirements for neutral athletes were approved. Among other things, this status cannot be claimed by persons who actively support the war, serve in military agencies or public security agencies of Russia and Belarus.   

There are serious questions to Russian athletes admitted to the competition in neutral status. In open sources, you can find information about the involvement of most of them in law enforcement agencies of the Russian Federation. In particular, there is information about the service of ten athletes in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, the National Guard, and the police. Information on the involvement of three more people in law enforcement agencies requires detailed verification. The citizens of Russia could have hidden information from the IOC that would prevent them from obtaining the status of a neutral participant in the competition.

Information that judokas Mikhail Igolnikov, Inal Tasoev, Tamerlan Bashaev, Sabina Gilyazova, Madina Taymazova, taekwondoist Vladislav Larin, and wrestler Zaurbek Sidakov are servicemen of the Russian army is published on the official website of the CSKA sports society, of which these persons are members, as well as on information resources. 

In 2021, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu awarded warrant officers Taymazov and Sidakov with medals For Military Courage. This departmental award is granted exclusively to servicemen of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

Zaurbek Sidakov (left) and Madina Taymazova (right) with medals For Military Courage from Sergei Shoigu (photo: 15 region)

The same medal was awarded to Tamerlan Bashaev, the warrant officer of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

Sergei Shoigu and Tamerlan Bashaev (photo: CSKA)

As of April 4, 2021, wrestler Zaur Uguev held the position of senior instructor of the sports team of the North Caucasus District of the National Guard of the Russian Federation. In August of the same year, warrant officer Uguev received acknowledgement from Sergei Zakharov, the commander of the North Caucasus District of the National guard. 

Lieutenant General of the National Guard Sergei Zakharov and warrant officer Zaur Uguev (centre) (photo: Pyatigorskaya Pravda)

Judoka Matvey Kanikovsky as of November 2022 had the rank of private and represented the sports team of the Central District of teh National Guard at the competition. 

Publication of the press service of National Guard about private Matvey Kanikovsky  

Judoka Ramazan Abdulaev in publications for February 2021 appears as a sergeant of the police regiment of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia in the Moscow region. In publications for 2020, there are references to the service in the police of another judoka—Arman Adamyan. The official website of the Dynamo Company states that Sergeant Adamyan is an employee of the temporary detention facility in Korolev, Moscow region.

Publication about police sergeant Arman Adamyan on the Dynamo website

READ ALSO: Why Russian athletes should not participate in the Olympic Games

Uguev, Adamyan, Abdulaev, and Kanikovsky represent the Dynamo sports society, the founders of which are the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Federal Security Service, the Federal Penitentiary Service, the Federal Security Service, the Foreign Intelligence Service, and other Russian law enforcement agencies. Athletes and coaches of Dynamo are usually their employees or servicemen. It cannot be ruled out that Zaur Uguev, Matvey Kanikovsky, Arman Adamyan, and Ramazan Abdulaev continue to serve in these agencies. 

Similarly, members of the CSKA society, judokas Mahmadbeka Mahmadbekov, Darya Kurbonmamadova, and Alice Startseva should be checked for belonging to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. At the moment, no information about their service could be found in open sources. 

But CSKA (Central Sports Club of the Army) is a structural unit of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation with the status of a federal autonomous institution. The head of CSKA is appointed by the Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation from among the representatives of senior or high-ranking officers. Currently, the club is headed by Colonel Artem Gromov. Athletes undergo military service in CSKA sports companies, after which they sign contracts with the Ministry of Defence. Similarly, coaches and other team personnel are servicemen. Startseva’s coach, CSKA member Igor Bystrov, served in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and retired with the rank of colonel. 

Colonel Igor Bystrov (photo: CSKA)

The war unleashed by the Kremlin is not only an unmotivated aggression against an independent state. The Russian Federation has inflicted and continues to inflict devastating blows on Ukrainian sports. As of the end of 2023, more than 400 Ukrainian athletes had died as a result of Russia’s actions. Hundreds of infrastructure facilities were completely or partially destroyed: sports complexes, training bases, schools, swimming pools, tennis courts, ice arenas… Because of this, as well as due to regular shelling, Ukrainian athletes are not able to fully train. Many athletes are defending Ukraine with weapons in their hands. In fact, the Kremlin destroys the sports potential of Ukraine by military means and creates advantages for Russian athletes, ignoring the principles of sports ethics. 

The admission to qualification for the 2024 Olympics of Russian athletes who do not meet the IOC’s neutrality requirements cannot but cause concern. The National Olympic Committee of Ukraine has already appealed to the International Olympic Committee with a request to check more thoroughly the information about the involvement of athletes from Russia and Belarus in law enforcement agencies and their justification for an aggressive war against Ukraine.

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