Analysis: How should the UCI and the cycling community react to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine?
Russian invasion of Ukraine provoked quick indignation from many major sport governing bodies, and the UCI vows no events in Russia.
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Europe woke up Friday to disturbing images of Russian tanks rolling on the outskirts of Kyiv and troops massing around bombed-out buildings.
Many within the international sports community quickly reacted with shock and dismay at the Russian military action in what’s the first major European invasion since World War II.
There were quick condemnations in the wake of the initial aggression, with such groups as the International Olympic Committee and the international soccer federation both issuing damning statements and, in the case of UEFA, deciding to pull soccer’s Champions League finals in May out of St. Petersburg.
UCI president David Lappartient posted a message Friday on social media condemning the attacks.
“The UCI calls for an immediate halt to the hostilities in Ukraine and firmly condemns Russia’s violation of international law,” Lappartient wrote. “Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian people as well as Ukraine’s cycling community. No UCI event is scheduled to take place in Russia or Belarus in 2022.”
The crisis raises a larger question: how should a sports governing body react to international crises that are far removed from its direct sphere of activity?
Does it matter what the UCI might or might not say on the worsening Russian-Ukraine crisis? And beyond a public statement, what could the UCI do anyway?
Two victories Friday made those questions even more poignant.
Mathias Vacek, a 19-year-old Czech rider on the Russian-backed team Grazprom-RusVelo, won stage 6 at the UAE Tour, and Ukraine rider Anatoliy Budyak of Terengganu Polygon team won in the Tour de Rwanda.
— F1 Media (@F1Media) February 25, 2022
Where does the line end and begin between sport and politics?
That’s always been a tricky question, and one that the sport of cycling has straddled with dramatic inconsistency over the decades.
There are currently no major road races or events inside Russia – unlike other sports which did have or still do, such as soccer, tennis or Formula 1. So a boycott or a cancellation of an event by the UCI or the larger cycling community isn’t a possibility. There are no major Russian cycling brands that could draw the ire of protesting fans.
Could the UCI chastise the Russian cycling federation, and ban its riders from international competition such as the UCI’s world championships and European championships? Some say yes, and that would at least send a signal to the larger Russian institutions.
Others suggest that Gazprom-RusVelo, which is backed by Russian companies with deeper links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, should be immediately sidelined.
Some say something must be done, and putting pressure on the institutions of Russia, even one as relatively small as cycling, could push a united message from across Europe.
The 2021/22 UEFA Men’s Champions League final will move from Saint Petersburg to Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
The game will be played as initially scheduled on Saturday 28 May at 21:00 CET.
Full statement: ⬇️
— UEFA (@UEFA) February 25, 2022
The indignation and shock within the European community runs deep, and many within the European cycling network believe that something should be done in light of what’s happening this week in the Ukraine.
How effective are boycotts, bans, and protests? And who eventually pays the price? That’s another tricky question.
If the UCI would kick Gazprom-RusVelo out of racing or ban the Russian federation from the world championships, who would be most directly impacted? It’s hard to imagine Putin and his cronies even noticing. And among the team’s 21 riders and staffers, only nine of its roster hails from Russia.
Yet many believe it’s important to do or say something.
Doing nothing is unacceptable for many.
It will be interesting to see how and what the UCI reacts. Or even if it does at all.
Woke up motivated & looking forward to training. Read the papers and suddenly it seemed bizarre to be heading out the door to work. An unimaginable situation that’s impossible to understand. Somehow made worse by the difficulty in comprehending a resolution.
— Tao Geoghegan Hart (@taogeoghegan) February 24, 2022