Nineteen-year-old Ukranian biathlete Yevhen Malyshev was killed in action on Tuesday while fighting for the Ukrainian military against the ongoing Russian military invasion. His death was confirmed Wednesday by the International Biathlon Union, who wrote, “Above all, the IBU expresses its deepest condolences on the loss of former Ukrainian biathlete Yevhen Malyshev (19), who died this week serving in the Ukrainian military. The Executive Board once again condemns the Russian attacks on Ukraine and the support provided by Belarus.”
Tensions are rising in the international sports world as the war in Ukraine escalates. Following Malyshev’s death, the organizations Athletes of Ukraine and Global Athlete released a joint statement condemning the ongoing Paralympic Games for allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to continue competing “neutrally,” which is essentially the same sanction that the Russian national team has been under for years due to its country-sponsored doping scandal.
The statement reads, in part, “Make no mistake, sport is politics. Putin has consistently used the Olympic and Paralympic Games to advance his domestic and international agendas…Sports administrators’ claims of ‘political neutrality’ are a convenient lie used to deflect calls to stand up for human rights and peace.” The organizations call for a stronger ban against Russian and Belarusian athletes, asking “How many more lives need to be lost before sport implements meaningful sanctions?”
The Paralympic Games in Beijing have drawn widespread criticism for allowing Russian athletes to compete, as the “neutral” label doesn’t actually mean much of anything. As of yesterday the International Paralympic Committee caved to the mounting protests and announced that Russian and Belarusian athletes will no longer be eligible to compete in the Games. Seventy-one Russian athletes were sent home from China with the reversal of the IPC’s initial decision. Several other teams and athletes had threatened to withdraw from the competition if the Russians were able to continue participating, and tensions were reportedly high in the Olympic Village.
FIFA and UEFA have already suspended Russian teams from participating in soccer events going forward, including this year’s World Cup. WWE and the WTA have canceled events, and Formula One has terminated Russia’s Grand Prix contract. While these may appear to be small sanctions in the grand scheme of things, the effects of sportswashing (the act of using sports to to improve a nation’s image) are being deliberately avoided by sporting organizations throughout the world, which can be a significant changemaker in public perception.
Malyshev, who competed on the Ukrainian junior biathlon team (a sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting) is not the first young athlete from his country to have been killed in action since the invasion began. A 21-year-old soccer player-turned-tank commander died in a battle near Kiev earlier this week, as well.