What is wrong with Human Rights in sport: the case of Belarus

Human Constanta
9 February 2024

Karate coach Rostislav Losev was detained in Mahiliou. A Telegram channel published a “repentance” video in which Losev says he has been writing angry comments since 2020 and was registered in the chatbot of the “Peramoga” plan. “Repentance” videos are one of the common forms of pressure from the de facto authorities of Belarus, which violates freedom from degrading treatment, freedom of expression, and the right to non-interference in private life.

In the material for the previous period we shared the news about the detention of FC Dynamo-Minsk academy coach Artur Mustyhin in September 2023. November 6, it became known that Mustyhin received 3 years of domestic chemistry under Article 342 of the Criminal Code of Belarus. Mustyhin was also included in the list of citizens of the Republic of Belarus, foreign citizens and stateless persons involved in extremist activities.

Parents and brother of world sambo champion Stiapan Popov were fired from Vitebsk regional sports school (СДЮШОР), where they worked as judo and sambo coaches, for not going to work during the period when they were arrested for 10 days for subscribing to resources on Facebook, recognized as extremist.

Read the full analysis on sports and human rights for october-december 2023 on our website.

The children’s coach of HC Lokomotiv-Orsha has been detained. In correspondence in one of the Telegram chats he wrote “Zelensky is a beautiful surname”. Information about this appeared in the Telegram-channel of the GUBOPiK – the statement of the coach was called “political camming-out”, reported that officers conducted “anti-extremist training”, and published another “repentance” video. GUBOPiK also said that the Federation would ensure that the trainer “is never allowed to coach again”.

Anastasia Mironchik-Ivanova, a Belarusian track and field athlete and a signatory to the pro-government athletes’ letter, won a medal at the 2011 World Championships – where she placed 4th, but the 3rd place athlete was later disqualified for doping. In December 2023, Mironchik-Ivanova spoke about how she received the medal: “When my medal from the World Championships came back to me, it came with an LGBT ribbon. … I cut that ribbon. … I often come to children at school and they ask why the medal is without a ribbon. I tell them that Belarus is for traditional family values. It so happened that the medal came with an LGBT ribbon, which had to be removed.” The promotion of heteronormative values by the de facto authorities of Belarus creates an environment in which LGBTQ+ people may be afraid to openly express their identity, which contradicts the principles of equality and non-discrimination.

The sports media Tribuna.com was declared an “extremist formation” and the Instagram account of sports journalist Aliaksandr Ivulin was recognized as “extremist materials”. Restricting media freedom and labeling independent media as “extremist” is one of the main levers of pressure by the de facto authorities of Belarus. These actions undermine the fundamental principles of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, which are essential components of a democratic society. 
The IOC decided to admit athletes from Belarus and Russia to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. The athletes will be able to participate in the competitions in a neutral status. At the moment, 8 Russian and 3 Belarusian athletes have qualified. The reaction to this news was mixed – it was criticized by some Ukrainian representatives of the sports industry, while the former Russian Sports Minister called such conditions of participation in the competition “humiliating” and the IOC decision – “a handout”. The NOC of Belarus called the conditions of admission “discriminatory” and “not satisfying the interests of the Belarusian sports community in full”.

The IOC decision was supported by Thomas Bach, IOC president; he stated that “individual athletes should not be penalized for the actions of their governments” and also spoke about the war in Ukraine: “One war out of 28 wars and conflicts that are going on in the world right now, and all the other athletes are competing peacefully with each other.”

Belarusian track and field athlete Yana Maksimava said she disagrees with the fact that Belarusian athletes, even those who are against the war, have been “equated with Russian athletes” and cannot participate in the Olympic Games as free athletes.

In their statement, the IOC again indicated that athletes who support the war and/or have contracted with the Belarusian or Russian military or national security agencies will not be able to participate in the Olympic Games. However, the involvement with the Belarusian military was confirmed for athlete Vanessa Kaladzinskaya, who had already qualified for the Olympic Games. 

In December, a charity fundraiser was held to support Uladzislau Kovaleu, a Belarusian grandmaster and free athlete, to cover expenses related to preparation and participation in the World Championships. The necessary sum was collected in just a few days, which is another example of solidarity of the Belarusian society.

On the International Human Rights Day, December 10th, a race in support of Belarusian political prisoners, organized by the human rights organization Libereco, was held in Zurich. During the event each runner participated on behalf of one political prisoner – in this way, the organizers planned to collect donations for each of them. At the time of publication, 1415 people were recognized as political prisoners in Belarus.

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