The U.S. Open's Russia mistake – New York Daily News – New York Daily News

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The U.S. Open should have followed Wimbledon’s lead and prohibited Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in Flushing. Allowing their participation promotes the agenda of Vladimir Putin, who recognizes the influence of sports so astutely that he unleashed his war dogs a day after the Beijing Winter Olympics.
While Ukraine is heroically outperforming expectations on the battlefield, it comes at mind-numbing costs. Not long ago, estimates were that 100-200 soldiers per day were being sacrificed. Six months into the war, Ukraine desperately needs continued support at all levels: governmental, institutional and public. A united front pressuring Russia in every way feasible must persist despite the struggle dimming in our news cycle and consciousness.
As Wimbledon recognized, this involves the rejection of Russian participation until their government reverses course. All England Club Chairman Ian Hewitt simply refused to be used by the Russian propaganda machine, which is what the USTA is allowing in showcasing Russian players at America’s most attended annual sports event.
Daniil Medvedev, of Russia, plays during the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022, in Mason, Ohio. (Jeff Dean/AP)
The USTA’s “Tennis Plays For Peace Exhibition” at the U.S. Open, featuring stars holding mini-matches during the middle of “fan week” and raising $1.2 million on last week’s Ukrainian Independence Day, was a kind half-measure. More effective would have been sidelining the betting favorite, Daniil Medvedev, among others. While some consider this unfair, there can be little doubt athletes serve as de facto ambassadors for their countries and Putin uses sports to promote reintegration into the world community. Wimbledon paid proper respect to what Ukrainians are enduring.
Allowing Russian participation is analogous to the “ROC” (Russian Olympic Committee) status Russia was allowed in the Olympics despite widespread doping violations. It accomplished nothing. Every Russian win was counted and promoted in their infosphere. The nature of sports is that great efforts from athletes like Medvedev inevitably reflect well on their homelands. Keeping them out of high-profile competitions would be one of the most effective public sanctions available as Russia (which hosted the World Cup in 2018 and Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014) overtly utilizes sports as a soft power quest.
Too many Americans are not drawing the necessary line in the sand and Russian athletes have been protected at the expense of the resolve necessary to help stem their government’s atrocities. This was recently on display at the Western and Southern Tennis Open near Cincinnati, where a female fan identified by WKRC as “Lola” from Uzbekistan, wore a Ukrainian floral crown and displayed the Ukrainian flag during a women’s match between two Russian players, Anna Kalinskaya (ranked 60th) and Anastasia Potapova (54th). Seeing the flag affected their concentration — though much less than air raids perturb Ukrainians. American officials responded in a manner symbolic of the misguided approach. The ref told Lola her actions were “not nice” and security threatened her with arrest.
The paradox of American sports promoting Russian interests is more clearly demonstrated by the NHL. Though Alexander Ovechkin continues to share his Instagram profile picture with Putin, during the Stanley Cup finals, the NHL profiled Ovechkin lifting the Cup in glory during its montage to illustrate what the moment signifies. Ironically, Ovechkin embraces the cup during a cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are A-Changin’.”
During the off-season, Ovechkin has been actively promoting Russian national strength through sport, including appearing with the Kontinental Hockey League’s Moscow Dynamo as well as hosting his own annual Alex Ovechkin Cup. As if taking the most leisurely of excursions, Ovechkin is not expected to have any difficulty traveling back to Washington to chase Gretzky’s scoring record. Many other Russian players enjoy the same freedom of movement and are coming back to their teams. This includes Islander goalie, Ilya Sorokin, who recently returned to the New York area and enjoyed a relaxing night of bowling.
This type of freedom of movement is hardly available to Ukrainians and their athletes, who are shuffling the roles of military defender and representing the country in sport as something for the people to rally around. Oleksandr Usyk, who just won a heavyweight title fight, has served in a territorial defense battalion. Top lightweight Vasyl Lomachenko has done the same. Retired champions Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko have active roles in Kyiv’s defense, and Dmytro Pidruchnyi (a World Champion in biathlon) and former tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky have also served in the military.
The United States is providing a critical role funding Ukraine’s defense, but our sports institutions and fanbases should be cognizant of inadvertently promoting Russian interests. To pressure Russia to change its course, we need to keep their athletes completely out of such events for the time being and laud — instead of stymie — efforts like the peaceful protester in Cincinnati. Ukraine’s fight remains ours, lest we encourage Putin’s tyranny to spread.
Strockyj is a Ukrainian-American sports fanatic from Queens.
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News

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