Russia At Risk of Total Sports Freeze, Pariah Status as Events Moved Out

It's only been a week since the Russian men's hockey team skated away with the silver medal at the Beijing Winter Olympics. For the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) squad, it was a tough pill to swallow losing to Finland in the gold medal game.

The Russian sports landscape has taken even more body checks into the boards this week after Russia invaded Ukraine, led by President Vladimir Putin.

Formula One Russia
Nikita Mazepin of Russia and Haas F1 (R), Haas F1 Team Principal Guenther Steiner (C) and Mick Schumacher of Germany and Haas F1 (L) unveil the Haas F1 VF-22 Ferrari during Day One of F1 Testing at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on February 23, 2022 in Barcelona, Spain. F1 has canceled its event scheduled to be raced in Russia later this year. Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Some events scheduled to be held in Russia have been moved, Russian athletes have spoken out against the war, and the International Olympic Committee president has urged countries to cancel all events in Russia and neighboring Belarus, and for them to quit displaying those nations' flag or playing their national anthem.

That likely includes the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympics that are set to begin next week (March 4 and go through March 13).

On Saturday, Poland and Sweden both said they will not play the Russians in World Cup playoff matches, and the Swedish government wants all European Union sports entities to implement a sporting ban on Russia.

"The time for talking is over. It is time to act," Polish football federation president Cezary Kulesza wrote. "Due to the escalation of the Russian Federation's aggression in Ukraine, the Polish team does not envisage playing the play-off against Russia."

Poland is scheduled to play in Moscow on March 24.

The UEFA Champions League final, which was scheduled for May 28 in St. Petersburg, Russia, has been moved to Paris, France, for the same date.

"Together with the French government, UEFA will fully support multi-stakeholder efforts to ensure the provision of rescue for football players and their families in Ukraine who face dire human suffering, destruction and displacement," UEFA said in a statement.

"The Kremlin on Friday said it regretted UEFA's decision, saying the city would have made a good host for a "festival of football."

The St. Petersburg Open tennis tournament has been moved to the Kazahk capital Nur-Sultan.

Formula One has canceled its September 25 race in Russia because of the invasion upon Ukraine. The racing organization announced its intentions on Thursday, not long after war began, saying "it is impossible to hold the Russian Grand Prix in the current circumstances."

This is happening to a Russia that recently held both a Winter Olympics (2014) and World Cup (2018) within the last decade.

It doesn't just stop at hosting events, but Russian mega stars in the sports world have spoken out against the war.

NHL star Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who's one of the best ice hockey players in history and a longtime supporter of Putin, is one of many athletes from Eastern Europe to voice their disagreement with the war.

"My family is over there. Of course I pay attention [to] what's [happening] out there," Ovechkin told the Washington Post. "I don't want to see nobody get hurt, nobody get killed. How I said, I hope it's going to be over and we're going to be living in a good world."
Russian tennis star Daniil Medvedev, who's the No. 1 player in the world, said this week "In this moment, you understand that tennis sometimes is not that important."

"By being a tennis player, I want to promote peace all over the world. We play in so many different countries. I've been in so many countries as a junior and as a pro. It's just not easy to hear all this news."

Andrey Rublev, who's ranked No. 7 in the world and won the Dubai Championships on Saturday, immediately went to a camera and wrote "No War Please" after he won his semifinal win on Friday.

Russia previously surrounded Ukraine with more than 100,000 troops from the Crimea peninsula in the east, some northeast of Ukraine and more embedded in Belarus, which borders Ukraine to the northwest.

Russia began invading Ukraine on Thursday, and the shellings continue. Tanks and troops have made their way to the capital of Kyiv. The international community has largely condemned the attacks. The United States and EU countries have imposed sanctions, but those have not deterred Putin, whose troops are expected to keep bombing Ukraine Sunday morning and all through the day.