Debate on the role of sport vs dictatorship in Belarus
On October 2, the webinar “Belarus: sports vs dictatorship” organised by MEP Viola von Cramon-Taubedel (Green/EFA) depicted the current situation Belarussian athletes are facing after having signed a statement asking for a free and fair election.
The panel was composed of noteworthy individuals, all bearing specific experiences and insight on the topic, including:
- Alexander Apeikin (initiator of the athletes’ protest asking for more freedom of speech in Belarus)
- Ingo Petz (sport journalist),
- Yelena Leuchanka’s mother (Yelena is the most famous Belarussian basketball player and one of the world’s best players today, who is presently under arrest, guilty of violating the law by publicly expressing her opinion, calling for fair and transparent elections, and carrying a banner saying; “Athletes are with people” during a pacific rally in Minsk),
- Stepan Popov (professional Belarussian sambist, winner of the “Fair Play” award),
- Aliaksandra Herasimenia (professional swimmer, twice world champion, and silver medal in London 2012),
- Andrei Krauchanka (professional decathlete).
The webinar focused on the state of the sport movement in Belarus after athletes decided to take a stand against Lukashenko’s regime and the perpetuation of violence against Belarussian citizens: for this reason they decided to sign a common statement asking for a free and fair election. The backstories of these signatures portray a dangerous and frightening situation in Belarus- athletes were either forced to leave the country to avoid direct implications, or to receive continuous threats of losing their jobs and training by the government. Considering the nature and role that sport plays in Belarus, President Lukashenko has always seen Belarussian athletes as instruments for his propaganda- he aims to minimize the echo of the protest and to put to rest rumors of discord. The situation is even more alarming since more than 60 cases of violation of athlete’s rights have been discovered under Lukashenko’s presidency of the Belarussian Olympic Committee. In this regard, Belarussian athletes are preparing a letter addressed the International Olympic Committee (IOC), asking for a firm stance and concrete measures against Lukashenko.
The last part of the webinar was dedicated to questions and statements. All speakers agreed on asking for more support from international actors, especially the IOC. In addition, there is a dire need to provide alternative solutions for Belarussian athletes who can no longer train and prepare for the upcoming Olympic Games.
Ingo Petz put forward a final suggestion to the European Union- the creation of a “blacklist” and a sanction mechanism for Belarussian athletes and officials who perpetrate the violation of athlete’s rights.
“This is not a political fight, but rather a fight for athletes’ rights” claimed Ingo Petz. This was an important occasion to shed light on what is happening in Belarus today- the central issue is not about sport, but rather about the resilience of democracy in Belarus.
Hence, sport is a litmus test of our societies, which is why is so interesting to further investigate the role it can play in shaping and upholding democracy.