Commentary: Why the “poutinisation” of sport should no longer deceive the world
Some observers have characterized Russia’s activities as sportswashing, a practice associated with either cleaning up a country’s image and reputation or tricking people into thinking an abuser is something other than that. than we might think it is.
But for the people of Ukraine, Poland and elsewhere, Putin’s intentions have never been in doubt. The strategy and the spots were always clear to see.
Others believe that Russia’s use of sport was a form of soft power, through which it sought to attract foreign audiences by seducing them with the lure of sport.
While there are reasons to conclude that this is what Kremlin strategists sought to achieve, the Putin regime’s predisposition to deception, division and destruction indicates that the use of the word ” sweet” is out of place.
PUTINIZATION OF SPORT
If neither sport washing nor soft power adequately or sufficiently explains how the Russian government has deployed activities like football and athletics, then surely a better explanation is that world sport has been “poutinized”.
At its heart, this “poutinisation” has seen a state-led strategy focused on building power and exercising control across the globe, executed through the divisive deployment of sport. But now the tipping point has arrived and global sport must respond.
In the short term, many of the measures currently implemented by the sport to sanction Russia are to be welcomed. Yet “poutinization” requires clubs, governing bodies, event owners and others to change their ways more fundamentally.
The Kremlin clearly does not engage in sport on the basis of sport or rational economics, its decisions are far more geopolitically charged than that. As such, sports organizations that have received money from Russian sponsors or investors need to start thinking less about their financial coffers and more about the risks when associating themselves with Putin and his ilk.
As for Russia, the events of the past few days have proven one thing: that Putin cannot be trusted or, for the time being at least, Russian sport. For the country to be reintegrated into the global sports system, measures will have to be put in place that not only reassure us, but also provide tangible proof that sport is not manipulated or exploited for geopolitical ends.
What this means and whether it can be achieved are complex questions, even if the sport simply can no longer afford to be fooled.
Simon Chadwick is World Professor of Eurasian Sport and Director of Eurasian Sport at EM Lyon. This comment first appearance in The Conversation.