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Politics

"I am categorically against this war and all my thoughts are with the Ukrainian people". Change of Russian sporting citizenship - a form of protest or sporting self interest?

02.06.2023

"I am pleased to announce  my naturalisation as a Frenchwoman. Thank you to this country, which welcomed me four and a half years ago.

I am proud to be representing France at the next World Open Water Championships in the 5km and 10km. Many thanks to the French Swimming Federation, my club, my coach. Thanks to my family and friends for supporting me in this difficult but important choice for the rest of my career. I hope to get into another French national team as well and of course, thank you very much to the All-Russian Swimming Federation (VFP) for believing in me for eight years."

This message was posted on social media in April by the European champion and now former Russian athlete Anastasia Kirpichnikova.


Anastasia Kirpichnikova
Photo: RIA Novosti / Maxim Bogodvid

Former Russian freestyle wrestler Dauren Krugliev has changed his citizenship to Greek.

"He is 30 years old and everything he could have done for our country, he did. Dauren devoted himself fully  to the Russian national team, the wrestler won both the European Games and the World Cup. Dauren, his family and loved ones made this decision," the athlete's coach told RIA Novosti.

In 2017, Kurugliev won the European Championship, in 2019 he won the II European Games, in 2019 and 2020 he won the World Cup (in the weight category up to 86 kg).

The list of athletes who have changed citizenship is growing by the day.

The Russian anti-war public cites this as proof of Russian sport's principled and open protest against Putin's war. Kremlin propaganda has branded those who compete under foreign flags as traitors. But in fact there are quite a few examples on this list where it is only a question of a sporting career - and nothing else.


"Sport cannot be outside politics. Russian athletes who found themselves abroad after 24 February 2022 and continued to perform is one story. The Russian national team, which has people who performed after the war and who were absolutely pro-Putin and said they were happy to have such a president - they were banned from performing in international tournaments."

Sergey Krivokharchenko, sports commentator and journalist, in an interview with Novaya Gazeta Europe


Thus, the Russian heavyweight boxer Murat Gassiev commented on obtaining a passport as an Armenian citizen:

"Do I still have Russian citizenship? Naturally. Both a Russian passport and an Armenian one. Thanks a lot to our Armenian brothers for meeting me halfway, for their help. This will give me new opportunities for my career.

It will help me move up the rankings. It's no secret that Russian boxers are having a bit of a hard time at the moment. For example, before my last fight , for the WBA to sanction my fight, I had to tear up the flags. There were a lot of different things. I'm a boxer, I'm an athlete, I want to box, win, and it's not my fault what's going on outside the ring.

Former Russian auto racer Daniil Kvyat stated in 2022, when his debut in the WEC World Championship was derailed for political reasons at the beginning of the racing season:

"I'm not worried about it. I think I'll be able to race in most categories, both in Europe and in the United States.

Yes, there was certainly a lot of tension at first. That situation set me back in negotiations. But it's much calmer now. We'll see what happens in 2023, I have a few options."


Daniil Kvyat
Photo: EPA

"Options" Daniel took advantage of a little later: in the spring of 2023, the athlete began competing under the Italian flag.

"How do you feel about performing with an Italian racing licence? I think sports should unite people. But I don't feel like I'm competing for a foreign country. I grew up in Italy, I spent my teenage years here, and for this reason I have already made a choice in favour of appearing under the Italian flag", -   Kvyat’s words translated in  La Gazzetta dello Sport.

At the same time on Kvyat’s  social networks, there was no hint of the disaster that commenced on February 24, 2022.


"It is absolutely clear why Russian athletes are so rarely against the war on social networks. Because all Russian sports are financed by the state and state corporations in one way or another, sometimes directly, sometimes a little indirectly. People understand very well that you have a very simple choice: either you keep quiet or you lose a very good contract."

Sergey Krivoharchenko, sports commentator and journalist, in an interview with Novaya Gazeta Europe


Of course, it would be completely unfair to accuse all athletes collectively of hypocrisy and careerism.

For example, cyclist Pavel Sivakov renounced his Russian citizenship in protest and will now ride for France.

"As I said before, I am categorically against this war and all my thoughts are with the Ukrainian people. Like most people around the world right now, I hope for peace and a speedy end to the suffering that is happening in Ukraine," Sivakov said.

Former Russian chess player and 12th world champion Alexandra Kostenyuk, who changed her sports citizenship to Swiss, also reacted very emotionally to the war unleashed by Russia:

"What is happening is something terrible, unthinkable and inexplicable. I am against any ....., against aggression and violence. I am against armies, weapons and ...., no matter what "positive" thoughts try to explain and justify them. It is scary and painful for me to realise that despite the fact that 2022 is on the calendar, people have still not learned to live peacefully. I am not ready to enter into any discussions about ...... * forbidden by presidential decree of 4.03.2022, when and why it began and how long it will last, I only pray that this nightmare ends as soon as possible, and that everything that is happening now will not lead to huge irreparable consequences for all mankind.”


Alexandra Kostenyuk
Photo: championat.com

Also, Alexandra and her colleague Alina Kashlinskaya, grandmaster, European champion, world champion, and two-time European champion with the Russian national team, signed an official appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, which begins with an open condemnation of Russia's military actions:

"We oppose military action on the territory of Ukraine and call for an early ceasefire and a peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue and diplomatic negotiations. It pains us unbearably to see the catastrophe that is happening to our people these days."

By the way, Alina recently obtained Polish citizenship, which caused the inexplicable indignation of the scandalous Russian State Duma deputy Vitaly Milonov:

"No normal person would perform under a Polish flag, ever. You could have chosen a more decent state, neutral, for example: Dutch Antilles <...> Personally, the Polish flag, like Poland, makes me absolutely disgusted culturally, as a Russian person."

But Milonov, thanks to his reputation, is allowed to make  harsh statements. Officials, on the other hand, try to maintain a more neutral tone.

The state obviously needs successful athletes, because they are literally its image in the international arena, so the Kremlin is in no hurry to burn its bridges.

"Every person faces some kind of choice their whole life. Everyone in this situation must proceed using basic concepts of morality, legality, justice, correctness and so on," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said evasively in an interview with Sport-Express.

Only time will tell how events in the world of Russian sports, practically cut off from international competition, will develop further. It is easy to predict that if the sanctions are not lifted, there will be more athletes renouncing inconvenient citizenship in the near future, but the number of those who take this step for ideological reasons is unlikely to increase, since everyone who wanted to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine did so in the first 462 days of the war.

By: Irina Iakovleva

Cover photo: Pavel Sivakov, @INEOSGrenadiers

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