Back in late February, the International Olympic Committee recommended that sports federations not allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in any competitions. There was nowhere for them to perform. But it is competition and victory that is the meaning of the life of any athlete. And if for Russian football players a match with the national team of Tajikistan, known only in Tajikistan itself, is more of an image loss, for other eminent champions, suspension from international competitions is the collapse of everything. For most of them, changing citizenship is the only way to continue their career. One way or another, Russia continues to lose champions.
The other day, Russian football was shocked by loud news: one of the most talented young Russian football players, a native of St. Petersburg and Georgians by blood, Dynamo player Saba Sazonov announced that he intended to play for the Georgian national team. At the same time, there were reports that Sazonov's teammate Arsen Zakharyan decided to change his registration in favor of the Armenian national team. What is true and what is not, we asked football observer Igor Rabiner to comment.
“Arsen Zakharyan didn't decide to play for Armenia. At the moment, these are rumors that are not based on anything, and another great talent born in Russia, Eduard Spertsyan from Krasnodar, really decided to play for Armenia (and has been playing for quite a long time). Zakharyan's performances for Armenia in the current state of affairs are unrealistic, since he has played in official matches, qualifying games for the 2022 World Cup, for the Russian team. The situation can change only if Russia ceases to be a member of FIFA, and it gives all players the freedom to choose a new sports citizenship, contrary to the previous rules. But so far there is no talk about it. Sazonov chose Georgia not out of the blue, but because he had such a legal right: his mother is a citizen of Georgia. I think that while the Russian team does not play in the World and European Championships (I remind you that we are suspended not only from Qatar-2022, but also from Euro-2024 qualification), everyone who has such a legal opportunity will choose alternative options.
But in general, Russian footballers mostly remain patriots. There are many reasons for this. “The level of Russian football, alas, is low. And FIFA has much stricter rules on changing sports nationality than most other international sports federations. These two factors together give such an effect,” explains Igor Rabiner.
In other sports, the process of changing citizenship is more lively.
It all started with cyclist Pavel Sivakov , a 25-year-old winner of the Tour of the Alps and the Tour of Poland. In early March, the athlete announced that in connection with the situation around Ukraine, he was changing Russian citizenship to French and would play for France. Sivakov's act is somewhat understandable: he was born in Italy and lived all his life in Europe. If you look at it, he had absolutely nothing to do with Russia, except for his passport.
Other athletes followed Sivakov. Chess player Evgeny Romanov announced his intention to play for Norway. He motivated this by the fact that he allegedly has been training there for a long time. Chess player Anna Kashlinskaya also passed under the flag of Poland.
It soon turned out that other athletes wanted to follow their example. 23-year-old biathlete Lydia Zhurauskaite moved to Lithuania and renounced her Russian citizenship. Another Russian biathlete, Daria Virolainen , decided to play for the Finnish national team from the new season. In addition, the media reported that leading Russian tennis players Andrei Rublev and Daria Kasatkina allowed the change of citizenship. And tennis player Natela Dzalamidze showed up at the Wimbledon tournament from Georgia. “ I am very sorry for all the other Russian athletes who do not participate in competitions. We cannot influence this situation ,” Dolomidze said. And she added: “ I decided to take this step for the sake of potential participation in the Olympic Games - of course, there are no specifics on them in relation to the Russian team yet.”
But perhaps the loudest sports scandal was the departure from Russia of the five-time Olympic champion in synchronized swimming, the thirteen-time world champion and the seven-time European champion in synchronized swimming, the Honored Master of Sports of Russia, the torchbearer of the Olympic Games in Sochi, the general secretary of the Russian Olympic Committee, the head of the center for synchronized swimming. swimming Anastasia Davydova.
Meanwhile, the imposed sanctions do not leave hope. In early October, the International Boxing Association (IBA) admitted Russian boxers to international competitions, but this event was quite predictable. “It doesn't mean anything at all, IBAs exist on their own. I would like to believe that gymnasts will soon be admitted, of course. But so far there are no prerequisites for this , ”said Irina Viner, president of the All-Russian Federation of Rhythmic Gymnastics.
The departures of athletes sometimes become the cause of family dramas. So, after Konstantin Lokhanov, a former member of the Russian fencing team , left Russia for the USA, his wife, Sofia Lokhanova, a two-time Olympic champion in saber fencing, announced a break with him. Her husband suggested that she go together, but Sofia, who is known not only as an athlete, but also as the daughter of the president of the Russian Olympic Committee, announced her decision to stay and filed for divorce.
Before the introduction of a ban against Russia on participation in international competitions, domestic athletes had two main motives for changing sports citizenship. Either the inability to break into the main team of Russia due to high competition, or problems with admission to international tournaments due to doping scandals: Russian athletes, even those who have never violated anti-doping rules, were repeatedly left out of the Olympic Games; some were given only personal invitations, and participation was allowed only in a neutral status.
Citizenship was often changed by those who did not succeed in Russia. This often happened in figure skating, in which competition in Russia is greater than anywhere else. Even at the Beijing Games, Anastasia Gubanova decided to skate for Georgia - the silver medalist of the Russian Cup-2018 and 2020 , as well as the silver medalist of the 2016 Junior Grand Prix final . She finally changed the flag in 2021, because she had no chance of getting into the national team. In Georgia, she immediately became number one, but at the Olympics she could not rise above 11th place.
The list of skaters who could not prove themselves in Russia and went abroad is quite large: Anastasia Shabotova (Ukraine), Ekaterina Kurakova and Vladimir Samoilov (Poland), Maria Talalaikina (Italy), Yekaterina Ryabova (Azerbaijan). All of them became leaders in the national teams, but failed to take high places in international competitions. In total, according to TASS, over the past six months, 19 Russian skaters have applied for transfers. “Top-level skaters who were participants in the Olympic Games, winners or prize-winners of the world or European championships are currently not among those who have applied for transfers,” the FFKKR told TASS.
A natural question arises why our champions do not change their citizenship - Anna Shcherbakova, Kamilla Valieva, Alexandra Trusova, the dance duo Sinitsyna-Katsalapov. It can be assumed that, having won Olympic gold, Anna Shcherbakova thought about ending her sports career, especially since she was offered a prestigious place as a host in the Ice Age show. The duet of Sinitsyn-Katsalapov was also invited there. Kamilla Valieva, a figure in the doping scandal, is most likely suspended from international competitions, judging by the fact that RUSADA refused to publish the details of the investigation against the athlete. It can be assumed that sanctions were nevertheless imposed on her in connection with doping. As for Olympic silver medalist Alexandra Trusova, when asked if she was considering changing citizenship, the skater replied: “No, I don’t”.
The authorities and colleagues in the sport react to this in different ways. For example, State Duma deputy Roman Teryushkov suggested that athletes leaving the country be considered traitors. “The President signed a law according to which going over to the side of the enemy in the conditions of hostilities will be considered treason. I believe that the change of sports citizenship for athletes of the national team should also be equated with an act of high treason,” he wrote. However, the deputy was criticized by many eminent athletes. Teryushkov's colleague in the Duma and three-time Olympic figure skating champion Irina Rodnina called Teryushkov's statement stupid, populist and completely illiterate. Approximately in the same vein, the honored trainer of the USSR Tatyana Tarasova spoke out: “People are changing jobs? Athletes also change, what is incomprehensible about this? They don’t perform here, they don’t have any chance to perform, so they go where there is a chance”, - she said.
Sports commentator Igor Rabiner agrees with this: “I think that this should be treated with understanding - people have put all their lives and great efforts into building their sports careers and getting ahead of thousands of others, big sport in people’s lives does not last long, and time they don't have to wait. I hope there will not be a very large outflow (in football, for sure), but only life will show. And then everything will depend not on sports”.