Why banning Russian athletes from competing is misguided

LAS VEGAS — Vladimir Putin will be remembered by history as a thug and a tyrant, and perhaps one of the leading examples of the worst of humanity. The Russian president has repeatedly shown complete indifference for human life and international law.

Wladimir Klitschko is among the best we have to offer as a people. He’s smart, compassionate, caring and courageous. His leadership before and during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been remarkable and has been a reason why Ukraine has defended itself so strongly. He is heroic in every sense of the word.

Yet, Klitschko’s idea to not allow Russian athletes to compete on the world stage during Russia’s invasion of his country is misguided and would have zero impact. Among other things, Klitschko said that WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol, who was born in Kyrgyzstan but is a Russian citizen, shouldn’t be allowed to fight Canelo Alvarez on May 7 in Las Vegas.

If doing that would help Ukraine propel the Russian forces, Bivol himself would probably withdraw from the fight. No right-thinking, fair-minded person would be against that. Hundreds of Ukrainian citizens have been killed and millions more displaced, and thousands of its soldiers have died in the war.

Putin, though, is dug in on his position, and preventing athletes from competing in events they’ve dedicated their lives to only hurts them. It will do nothing to Putin, who likely wouldn’t even notice and wouldn’t care if he did.

Bivol’s ability to fight Alvarez or not will make no difference in Putin’s political strategy or conduct of the war. If the Olympics, or some other major international event that Putin could use as propaganda and as a money-making tool were scheduled, yes, remove those from Russian territories.

Boxing’s four major sanctioning bodies have agreed not to sanction title fights in Russia. It’s a symbolic move that won’t affect Putin or impact the war, but the fights can be held elsewhere and the athletes will be able to pursue their dreams. And, as we shouldn’t forget, this is how they feed their families. The money Bivol makes from this Alvarez fight will set him up for the rest of his life and likely make a tangible difference to his family for generations

If he doesn’t fight Alvarez as a consequence of Putin’s actions, he’ll lose an opportunity and a paycheck he’ll almost certainly never regain. Putin, one of the world’s richest men, certainly won’t compensate him.

Dmitry Bivol shouldn’t be punished for simply being Russian. (Photo by Matt Thomas/Getty Images)

Wladimir and older brother Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, have been exemplary leaders and sacrificed so much for the cause of defending their homeland. They and their countrymen deserve all the support the world can give them against this illegal, immoral and unjust invasion by Russia of a sovereign land.

There are scores of charities that are supporting the Ukrainians. Charity Navigator has a list of 35 that people can use with confidence that will supply medical aid and services, non-medical supplies, water, sanitation and hygiene, emergency housing and long-term assistance.

Governments around the world can provide financial and military aid.

Those things can have a tangible impact. Symbolically pulling a Russian from a sporting event simply because of the actions of a dictator won’t impact anything.

Russian citizens living in Russia are already struggling as a result of the invasion. Its economy was terrible to begin with and the sanctions imposed upon Russia have impacted its economy to an even greater extent, making the lives of the population even more miserable.

Are the sanctions in and of themselves enough to deter Putin and change his course on the war? No, probably not. But if they’re not enough to deter him, how would stopping a soft-spoken 31-year-old Russian citizen from participating in a career- and legacy-defining boxing match accomplish that?

The Klitschkos are heroes for far more than they ever did inside of a boxing ring. They deserve as much support as can be given, as does Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian figures leading the resistance against Putin.

It’s not right, though, to make an innocent man who had zero to do with his country’s invasion pull out of a sporting event that could change his life and the lives of his family members for generations.

Virtually no one would notice or care, least of all the cruel and power-hungry Russian president.

Let Bivol fight and Alex Ovechkin play and all of the other Russian athletes pursue their livelihoods.

Actions against Putin that are meaningful and significant are what is required, not a toothless and symbolic ban on athletes who are 100 percent victims in this case.