July 28, 2021

Doping: Russia, a major giant in world sport

We have always been and we will be partners of international sports organizations in the development of sport and in the organization of competitions. I think all international organizations have an interest in keeping their level of cooperation with Russia the same“.

The barely disguised threat to international federations comes from the Minister of Sports, the former swordsman Pavel Kolobkov, who succeeded in October 2016 the sulphurous Vitali Moutko in this key position in Russian sport.

It sums up in two sentences the influence of Russia, a leading economic player, firmly established in international sporting bodies and host of events for which the candidates are not legion.

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. Sponsors

With its multinationals in the energy sector (Gazprom) or in the banking sector (VTB), the Russian economy has invested in the field of sponsoring international sports federations.

Gazprom is thus the official sponsor of the Champions League, the premier football competition for clubs, in the same way as the American Mastercard (finances) or the Japanese Nissan (automobile).

The name of the oil giant, sponsor of Fifa until the 2018 World Cup, also appears on the jerseys of major European clubs, such as Zenit Saint-Petersburg, Red Star Belgrade or Schalke 04.

Known for his strong ties to Vladimir Putin, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who holds positions in the energy company via Nord Stream, is also close to the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach – both got to know each other through German politics.

The VTB bank for its part is one of the main sponsors of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG). One of the three FIG vice-presidents, Russian Vasily Titov, was the first vice-president.

Among the sanctions Russia faces before WADA is a ban on hosting world championships for four years. But the big meeting of sport business and international sports federations, Sport Accord, will take place in 2021 in Yekaterinburg, the organizers announced on November 30.

. Instances

This is the second aspect of the Russian sports superpower: its presence in the governing bodies. A third of the international summer Olympic sports federations have a Russian representative on their executive committees, and six of them have a Russian president or vice-president.

Two extremely wealthy businessmen, Vladimir Lisin (45th world fortune according to Forbes with 19.3 billion dollars) and Alisher Usmanov (106th, 12.1 billion USD), lead the international federations of shooting (ISSF) and fencing ( FIE).

Alisher Usmanov, at the head of the FIE since 2008, contributes from his personal funds to the financing of the federation: a line in the receipts of the 2019 and 2020 budgets includes the mention “president’s donation“with the sum of 5 million Swiss francs, out of a total revenue of 9.5 million CHF in 2019. He also invested in the English club Arsenal.

On Sunday, in an open letter to WADA President Craig Reedie, Usmanov warned of a “lynching“of his country, judging that a ban on the Russian flag at the Olympics would be”obvious discrimination“.

The Russian presence goes back to the top of the state. Vladimir Poutine, red and white judo belt and 8th dan, is honorary president of the International Federation (IJF).

. Land of welcome

Since the reinstatement on condition of the Russian anti-doping agency (Rusada) in September 2018, Russia has obtained the organization of the final of the 2021 Champions League in St Petersburg, the 2022 World Volleyball, the 2022 Worlds. of wrestling in Krasnoyarsk or the Universiade-2023 in Ekaterinburg.

An area that Russia, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the 2018 World Cup or certain Euro-2020 football matches, extends above all to less lucrative disciplines.

Russia is influential because it hosts and wants to host many competitions, especially for international federations that do not have a lot of money. Many of these competitions are expensive to organize, they do not attract a large audience“, underlines for AFP the Canadian lawyer and historical member of the IOC Richard Pound.

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And this despite the doping scandal: the 2021 Biathlon Worlds had been awarded to Tyumen in September 2016, before the International Biathlon Federation (IBU) finally gave up under pressure.



Frédéric Filloux is a columnist for L'Express and editor of the Monday Note.Frederic Filloux


Pierre Assouline, journalist, writer, member of the Académie Goncourt and columnist for L'Express.Pierre Assouline


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