Figure Skating Officials Bar Russians With World Championships Weeks Away
The International Skating Union, figure skating’s world governing body, on Tuesday became the latest sports federation to bar Russian athletes from competition in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions will apparently prohibit the world’s dominant figure skating country from performing at the world championships in three weeks.
The news came as Viktor Petrenko, the 1992 Olympic figure skating champion from Ukraine, remained stranded in Kyiv, according to his daughter.
The absence of Russian skaters would significantly impact the world championships, which begin March 21 in Montpellier, France. If nothing else, it would avoid a repeat of the joyless, numb moment at the Beijing Olympics, when Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old favorite in women’s singles who tested positive for a banned substance, crumbled amid the intense scrutiny and was left in tears after criticism by her coach.
But the ban would also keep Anna Shcherbakova, 17, the Olympic champion, from defending her 2021 world title and prevent Valieva from a redemptive performance. It will not, however, stop an investigation of Eteri Tutberidze, the coach of Valieva and Shcherbakova, over the issue of doping.
Russia won five skating medals at the Beijing Games: a gold and silver in women’s singles, a silver and bronze in pairs and a silver in ice dancing. It also won the team competition, helped greatly by Valieva, but medals in that event will not be awarded until her case is resolved.
The International Skating Union said in a statement on Tuesday that no athletes from Russia or Belarus, which has supported Russia’s invasion, would be allowed to compete until further notice, reiterating “its solidarity with all those affected by the conflict in Ukraine.”
Those affected include Petrenko, 52, who became Olympic champion two months after the Soviet Union dissolved and now spends much of his time coaching and performing in ice shows in Europe. He recently visited his hometown, Odessa, for a commemoration of the 30th anniversary of his Olympic victory, then went to his apartment in Kyiv, only to be marooned once the Russian invasion began, his daughter, Victoria, 24, said Tuesday.
Victoria Petrenko, who lives in Manhattan, said that she had been in contact with her father and that he was safe at the moment. Viktor Petrenko was apparently taking shelter in the basement of his apartment building when air raid sirens blared, his daughter said. He did not respond to phone calls or text messages requesting an interview on Tuesday.
“It’s just such a tragedy,” Victoria Petrenko said of the crisis in Ukraine, her voice choking with emotion. “He says he tries to stay inside. For now, it’s OK. I’ve been trying to get him to leave, but I don’t think the situations at the borders are easy. I hope he’s able to leave safely soon.”
Asked to comment about the barring of Russian skaters, Galina Zmievskaya, a native of Ukraine and Petrenko’s former coach, who now teaches at the Ice House in Hackensack, N.J., said in a statement: “This is bigger than figure skating right now. We’re seeing a country get destroyed and innocent lives are in danger every second.”
Zmievskaya, who also coached Oksana Baiul of Ukraine to an Olympic gold medal in 1994, added: “We are all deeply saddened and at a loss for words seeing this tragedy unfold. The most important thing on our mind right now is helping the people of this beautiful country and achieving peace.”
The barring of Russian skaters came a day after athletes from the country were prohibited from competing in international soccer and ice hockey events. The International Olympic Committee has requested that all sports governing bodies not invite or allow Russian athletes to compete.
Tom Zakrajsek, an American figure skating coach, said in a text message that the sanction against Russian skaters “seems totally appropriate.” He continued, “Logically, I don’t think they could have made any other choice.”
Understand Russia’s Attack on Ukraine
What is at the root of this invasion? Russia considers Ukraine within its natural sphere of influence, and it has grown unnerved at Ukraine’s closeness with the West and the prospect that the country might join NATO or the European Union. While Ukraine is part of neither, it receives financial and military aid from the United States and Europe.
Are these tensions just starting now? Antagonism between the two nations has been simmering since 2014, when the Russian military crossed into Ukrainian territory, after an uprising in Ukraine replaced their Russia-friendly president with a pro-Western government. Then, Russia annexed Crimea and inspired a separatist movement in the east. A cease-fire was negotiated in 2015, but fighting has continued.
How did this invasion unfold? After amassing a military presence near the Ukrainian border for months, on Feb. 21, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia signed decrees recognizing two pro-Russian breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine. On Feb. 23, he declared the start of a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Several attacks on cities around the country have since unfolded.
What has Mr. Putin said about the attacks? Mr. Putin said he was acting after receiving a plea for assistance from the leaders of the Russian-backed separatist territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, citing the false accusation that Ukrainian forces had been carrying out ethnic cleansing there and arguing that the very idea of Ukrainian statehood was a fiction.
How has Ukraine responded? On Feb. 23, Ukraine declared a 30-day state of emergency as cyberattacks knocked out government institutions. Following the beginning of the attacks, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, declared martial law. The foreign minister called the attacks “a full-scale invasion” and called on the world to “stop Putin.”
How has the rest of the world reacted? The United States, the European Union and others have condemned Russia’s aggression and begun issuing economic sanctions against Russia. Germany announced on Feb. 23 that it would halt certification of a gas pipeline linking it with Russia. China refused to call the attack an “invasion,” but did call for dialogue.
How could this affect the economy? Russia controls vast global resources — natural gas, oil, wheat, palladium and nickel in particular — so the conflict could have far-reaching consequences, prompting spikes in energy and food prices and spooking investors. Global banks are also bracing for the effects of sanctions.
The ban imposed by the International Skating Union came even though its vice president, Alexander Lakernik of Russia, is a powerful figure in the governing body. Reached briefly, Lakernik said he could not comment, given his position in the organization.
Tamara Moskvina, a pairs coach whose skaters have won Olympic medals from 1984 through 2022, obliquely criticized the ban in a phone interview from St. Petersburg, Russia, saying, “Read the I.S.U. code of ethics where it says the I.S.U. cannot take into consideration differences in race, politics, religion, et cetera, and then you will know whether” the ban “coincides with the measures the I.S.U. took or not.”
Tuesday night in Kyiv, Anastasiya Makarova, the general secretary of Ukraine’s figure skating association, said the sport — like all of life — had been severely disrupted. A novice competition had to be halted last week when the Russians began attacking Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine; 15 children were safely placed on a train to Kyiv, Makarova said.
A Polish skating club has helped 20 evacuated Ukrainian skaters with meals, housing and a training rink, Makarova said, and about 30 skaters have been assisted in reaching Moldova.
“I just never believed this would happen; it’s like a movie,” Makarova said, adding with gallows humor, “We need Bruce Willis to save the world.”
She could not talk long. “The bombs sometimes come,” she said. “I need to get underground.”