Can we imagine basketball world championships taking place without the Americans? Or a Rugby World Cup without the New Zealand All Blacks? These competitions would necessarily have a different dimension and flavor. However, this is what will happen to figure skating, which, during the world championships in Montpellier, from March 23 to 27, will have to do without Russia, the dominant nation in this sport.
Neither Anna Chtcherbakova nor the couple Anastasia Mishina-Aleksandr Galliamov, nor the ice dancers Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, all reigning world champions, will be present. They were declared persona non grata “with immediate effect and until further notice” by the International Skating Union (ISU). Just like the rest of their Russian counterparts.
This decision was taken in response to the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army launched by the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, on February 24. Minsk’s support for the Kremlin is for Belarusian skaters and skaters to suffer the same fate.
“There are decisions that must be made, assumed. It’s not as black and white as you think, it’s complicated, but it’s our responsibility. Today we are given it, so we have to take it”declares, about this banishment, Nathalie Péchalat, the president of the French Federation of Ice Sports (FFSG), who greets her “in a federal and personal capacity”.
Athletes, “pawns on the chessboard”
The former ice dancer is however aware that the absence of Russian skaters in Montpellier is not without consequences on the level of competition and on the show. A glance at the winners of the previous edition is enough to take the measure. In Stockholm in 2021, the Russians – who competed under a neutral banner, Russia having been excluded from international competitions due to institutionalized doping – were omnipresent on the podiums: six medals out of the twelve distributed, including three of the four titles at stake.
Same observation at the Winter Olympics (OG) in Beijing, in February: five medals, including one in gold, to which is added the controversial coronation in the team event, suspended from a judgment of the Court of Arbitration for Sport on the fate of the prodigy Kamila Valieva, 15, who tested positive for a prohibited substance a few weeks before the high mass of snow and ice sports.
“The idea is not to know whether for us, the general public, [leur absence] going to be detrimental, because we won’t have performances from Russian athletesreacted Nathalie Péchalat before the Worlds. This is what is the responsibility of the sports movement in, finally, the psychology of Vladimir Putin and in the acts that we know, recently or less recently. »
As soon as he arrived at the head of the country in 2000, the strongman of the Kremlin made sport a weapon of “soft power” “to improve his image and that of his power”reminded the World Lukas Aubin, sports geopolitical scientist at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) and author of Sportokratura under Vladimir Putin: a geopolitics of Russian sport (Breal, 2021).
Since the first conflict in Crimea in 2014, then the doping cases, this strategy had already begun to stall and the country is now more readily associated with sulphurous cases than with the performance of its athletes. The “Valieva affair”, at the Beijing Olympics, showed this again.
Athletes are not only the victims of a system, but also of “pawns on a chessboard”argues Nathalie Péchalat, who spent three years in the country during her sports career.
The fate of Ukrainian athletes in suspense
The exclusion of the Russians will be felt in the women’s competition, where three of its representatives – Anna Chtcherbakova, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Alexandra Troussova – had monopolized the world podium in Sweden last year, and in the couple category, where the pairs Mishina-Galliamov and Boikova-Kozlovskii had won gold and bronze.
It also deprives spectators of the third act of the duel between Olympic ice dancing champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron and their dolphins Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov. The Muscovites were the only ones to beat the French since the Pyeonchang Games (South Korea) in 2018: on the ice of the ice rink in Graz, Austria, during the European Championships in 2020. Before going for the title worldwide in their absence in 2021.
As the Worlds approached, Gabriella Papadakis’ thoughts were much more focused on the fate of her Ukrainian counterparts: “I think it’s more on their case that the conversation should be directed”slipped the skater, in regular contact with the dancers Maxim Nikitin and Alexandra Nazarova, from Kharkiv, a city in the grip of the bombardments of the Russian troops.
On the social network Instagram, on March 12, the skater Andrii Kokura published an exchange of messages concerning his comrade, Ivan Shmuratko, 20 years old. Did he know if the latter, who must take part in the men’s individual event, had had the opportunity to train? “He has the ability to hide in bomb shelters. That, I know. »
The question of whether Ukrainian skaters would be present in Montpellier was still unresolved. All managed to leave their country and “We will do everything so that they can participate”, we say on the side of the FFSG. Several clubs have already said they are ready to welcome and make their training facilities available to athletes who wish to stay in France after the competition.
The return of Papadakis-Cizeron, Nathan Chen forfeit
Fresh off their Olympic crown in ice dancing at the Beijing Games, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are the headliners of the Montpellier World Figure Skating Championships (March 23-27). The French are not hiding their ambitions: already quadruple world champions, they will be keen to recover the crown taken from them by the Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov in 2021. But, after focusing on Olympic gold, the four last years, “We are going to try to have fun in front of the French public, that is rather our objective”slips Guillaume Cizeron. “It’s like a last celebration. It remains an important competition but with less pressure than the one before.abounds his partner.
The public will, however, be deprived of another Olympic champion. Winner of the three previous editions of the Worlds, the American Nathan Chen had to withdraw from the competition, due to“a lingering wound”.