Modern Olympics: Russian athlete bans violate the charter

Mar 5, 2023
Principle 6

Will Australian athletes face a similar ban on participation in the Olympics for their government’s wars of aggression?

Anthony Albanese’s government is violating the Olympic Charter by supporting bans on Russian and Belarusian athletes attending the Paris games in 2024.

Since 2015, the Olympic Charter’s Article Six states, The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries. They bring together the athletes selected by their respective National Olympic Committees.

As explained further below, there is more than a touch of hypocrisy in Albanese’s stand.

President Putin and his inner circle are responsible for the invasion of Ukraine. Olympic athletes from Russia and Belarus are not. Although they have done nothing wrong, they will be the ones who’ll be punished if Western politicians, including Australia’s, have their way. Putin will be barely affected.

Many of these athletes excel in their chosen fields, inspiring others to participate in peaceful sporting endeavours in future. Contestants from other countries do the same, but don’t face the prospect of their right to participate being snatched away.

In announcing decision to join the Western ban on innocent athletes, the Albanese government said, “In Russia and Belarus sport and politics are closely intertwined”. The same applies in Australia where governments fund Olympic sports and many others, as well as funding training institutes and building stadiums. The ban risks encouraging hatred of all Russians.

The Australian Olympic Committee supports the International Olympic Committee’s position, “The role of sport is to bring the world together through peaceful competition [and] promote harmony”. The IOC said its role “is not to punish individual athletes for the policies and action of their governments. We cannot discriminate against athletes based on their passports or the actions of their governments.”

The Australian government also questioned whether it was feasible for athletes from Russia and Belarus “to compete as neutrals”. There is little reason to accept this. Last year’s ban on tennis players from countries competing at Wimbledon in 2022 is instructive. This Grand Slam event turned into a farce after the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson convinced tournament officials to ban Russian and Belarusian players. Most do not even live in those countries. None are known to support the invasion. But all should retain the right to refuse to state their views on any political issue, despite the attempts by a British minister to make tennis players do so.

UK government sources told The Times there were fears the trophy presentation could have been a “sports-washing victory for Russia” and “embarrassing” for Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, who was due to present the trophies. This could have been avoided if a former tennis champion presented the trophies. Russians and Belarusians have subsequently entered tournaments without a scrap of evidence that these could have turned into a “sports washing victory” for Russia or Belarus.

The same is likely to apply if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete at the Paris Olympics. Nevertheless, it would help if all governments adhered to the Olympic rules stating the games “are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries”.

These ideals are not always upheld as countries jostle to host the games. Some have attempted to become host corruptly. Ridiculous spending on venues has eased a little. Some events are marred by drug taking. The focus on tables listing which country is winning the most medals remains stronger than the focus on individual athletes, especially in the less glamorous events.

There is a strong case for putting Putin on trial for the crime of starting a war of aggression. However, President Biden wants Putin to stand trial without explaining where or how. The obvious point to make is that the US has not recognised the International Criminal Court which prosecutes war crimes.

Australia is due to host the 2032 Olympics in Brisbane. Athletes should hope Australian governments don’t initiate a war of aggression which leads other countries to ban their participation.

This may not be as far-fetched as it may seem. Australian has engaged in wars of aggression in the past, including Iraq and Vietnam and gone unsanctioned thanks to America’s global dominance. This is fading and the past immunity may no longer apply.

Australia joined the UK and the US in invading Iraq in 2003. The flimsy rationale was that intelligence showed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction at that time and was easily exposed as phoney. John Howard, Tony Blair and George W. Bush allegedly committed the war crime of aggression – just as Putin has by invading Ukraine.

In Vietnam, Australia joined the US in a civil war that followed President Eisenhower’s hugely consequential act of foreign interference to stop an election going ahead. An international conference had arranged the ballot to choose a president and unite the country. Eisenhower later said the election had to be stopped because Ho Chi Minh, the leader in Hanoi, would have won easily. When it was clear that America (and Australia) had lost the war, a revengeful US carpet bombed Hanoi and Haiphong, dropping over 20,000 tons of bombs. Putin has dropped a tiny fraction of that on Ukraine.

Another act of aggression could happen because Australian governments host US forces here. There is no constraint on whether these forces can be used for aggressive purposes, nor whether Australia tags along to another foreign war.

Albanese has refused to say whether he has told the Americans they must not engage in aggression from Australian bases. From this, it can be understood that he hasn’t.

To restore Australia as an independent country we need to scrap the offensive wording in the 2014 US- Australia Force Posture Agreement which both sides of politics support. Article 7’s wording about the prepositioned materiel for US Forces and its storage is unacceptable. Similar considerations apply to military forces, such as B-52 bombers at Tindal in the Northern Territory and the Marines and their fighter planes near Darwin, as well as the US Navy ships and submarines soon to be rotated through Australia. The Force Posture agreement says the US will have “exclusive control over the access to, use of, and disposition of such prepositioned materiel and shall have the unencumbered right to remove it at any time from the territory of Australia”.

The provision to give US “exclusive use” of this war material is disturbing, especially if it includes weapons and other equipment that can used in a war of aggression without Australia’s permission. It is not clear how this fits with the Labor government’s new policy that Australian and US military equipment should be interchangeable. But the existing arrangements are incompatible with Australia’s claim to be independent country.

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