How has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affected the sports world?



Nikita Mazepin, son of Putin-linked oligarch Dmitry, lost his seat at the Haas F1 team due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Like many, the sports world has been appalled by Russia’s unnecessary invasion of Ukraine on February 24. And it hasn’t come without severe ramifications for Russian sports bodies, who have had to deal with not only the consistent issue of Russian athletes doping, but the dictatorial actions of their government to boot.     

 FIFA and UEFA jointly announced on February 28 that Russia would be suspended from competitions. This comes off the back of numerous countries, including the three in their World Cup playoff group (Sweden, Czechia, Poland), refusing to play the Russian national team. The announcement effectively ended Russia’s chances of qualifying for the World Cup, and also led to Spartak Moscow, who qualified for the UEFA Europa League Round of 16, being expelled from the tournament. 

 Long-time Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who has long been linked to ties with Putin and who was recently placed under sanction by British Parliament, has left his shares of the club to trustees, aiming to save his skin and Chelsea’s reputation. Chelsea have now been put up for sale as the club’s activities have been heavily restricted, from losing main sponsor Three to being banned from selling tickets, and prospective buyers ranging from Jets owner Woody Johnson to a consortium including Dodgers owner Todd Boehly have been lining up to own the prestigious English club. 

Lokomotiv Moscow manager Markus Gisdol, in his first season with the team following spells in Germany with Hoffenheim, Hamburg, and Koln, left his spot in protest of the Russian invasion, as did Krasnodar manager Daniel Farke. The former Norwich City manager had been in the job for less than a week before stepping down.

 Ice hockey is arguably Russia’s favorite sport, and the IIHF has hit them hard. They followed UEFA and FIFA’s lead by suspending Russia (as well as Belarus, who has been Russia’s only ally) from international competition; the IIHF also rescinded Russia’s rights to host the 2023 World Junior Championship. Russia’s domestic league, the KHL, has also seen a couple of teams, Jokerit Helsinki and Dinamo Riga, leave the competition due to the invasion. Jokerit looks likely to rejoin the Finnish Liiga, and Dinamo Riga are reportedly in talks to join the mainly-Austrian IceHL, which also boasts teams from Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Czechia.

 It has also surprisingly impacted the world of Formula One. The title sponsor of American team Haas is Russian chemical manufacturer Uralkali, part of the Uralchem group owned by Putin crony Dmitry Mazepin. If that name sounds familiar, his son Nikita is one of the team’s drivers, and Uralkali’s sponsorship is dependent on Nikita driving for the team. However, with Dmitry’s close ties to Putin, Haas have distanced themselves from Uralkali, removing their logo from the car and changing their livery on the final day of the first preseason test to an all-white car with the Haas logo.

And on Saturday, March 5, Haas announced that they had dissolved their partnership with Uralkali with immediate effect; Mazepin would no longer be driving for the team as a result. Team owner Gene Haas, when interviewed at the Pennzoil 400 (he’s a part owner of the Stewart-Haas NASCAR team), confirmed that the team would be able to survive without Mazepin’s funding and that his NASCAR team sponsors had placed pressure on him to cut ties with Uralkali as the team aimed to stay. They announced Kevin Magnussen, who previously drove for the team from 2018 to 2020, as Mazepin’s replacement, and he immediately set the fastest lap on the second day of official preseason testing as Haas looks to seriously contend for points in 2022. 

 Athletes across the world, from Ukraine and Manchester City left back Oleksandr Zinchenko to Russian stars like tennis player Andrey Rublev and Dynamo Moscow striker Fedor Smolov, have spoken out against Russia’s horrific actions. The immense show of support from teams across the globe, like Real Madrid and West Ham, has been beautiful to see. 

 This will continue to affect the sports world for months and maybe even years to come. I feel for the Russian athletes who had nothing to do with their leader’s decision to invade Ukraine, but there needs to be some sort of punishment for it, and what governing bodies like FIFA and the IIHF have done so far is fitting. Sometimes it can go a bit too far, like the banning of Russian and Belarussian athletes from the Paralympics (these men and women worked four years for the chance to participate, only for it to be taken away due to the reckless and dangerous actions of their leaders), but these are justified and necessary actions that needed to be taken. 

  The sports world is not taking Russia’s antagonistic war lightly, and their harsh response to the country proves it.