LONDON — For roughly three decades, making sure athletes participated in the biggest events regardless of the world’s never-ending military and political battles has been a nearly sacrosanct tenet of international sports.
Wars broke out. Authoritarian nations with egregious records on human rights hosted major events. There were massive doping scandals. And through it all, boycotts and bans on participation all but disappeared from the sports landscape.
That principle — staging truly global competitions and not holding athletes responsible for the world’s ills — began to crumble after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It will be on hiatus starting Monday, when Wimbledon opens without the world No. 1, Daniil Medvedev, and the rest of the tennis players from Russia and Belarus, who have been barred from participating.
World Athletics, track and field’s world governing body, has also barred Russian and Belarusian athletes from its championships next month in Eugene, Ore., the biggest track and field event outside of the Olympic Games.
The bans represent a drastic shift after years of resisting letting politics interfere with individual athletes’ participation in sports. They are also a departure from the decisions that various sports organizations made earlier this year to limit punishments to banning Russian and Belarusian teams or any flags or other symbols of the countries from competitions.
What changed? China’s authoritarian government has stifled free speech and other human rights, and its treatment of the Uyghurs has been deemed genocide by multiple governments, yet it was permitted to host the Olympics in February. Why were Russian and Belarusian athletes pariahs by March?