Hints of Russians’ Return to International Sports Rekindle Debate Over Their Exclusion
This is part of The Hill’s ongoing coverage of Russia’s sports world. This piece will be part of a weeklong series examining the complex history of Russian sports in America.
“You know, everybody doesn’t want us back in international competition at this moment,” said Aleksei Sazanov, who grew up in the Soviet era and now runs the Russia-U.S sports agency Sovet Rus for the Ministry of Sport of the Russian Federation. “But in sports, there is no international competition without Russia,” he said during an interview last week at his office in Moscow. “I understand that some sports say that Russia isn’t a good candidate, but in sports, the United States is the number one; the world is our country; so let’s go and play against them.”
Sazanov, who is one of the United States’ best basketball players and was a world champion as a player, is one of Moscow’s leading sports entrepreneurs and is not afraid of the kind of fan-service approach that a lot of Russian sports people have traditionally taken. As he is fond of saying, “if you don’t like us, vote out.” It was Sazanov who coined the phrase, and then coined a related phrase that is still being used by many Russians today. He said it was meant to send a message to those in the United States who think they can go head-to-head with Russia: “if you don’t like us now, vote us out.”
The United States has long been a sore spot for Russia, which has denied its athletes the right to compete internationally for a number of years. And there have been rumbles in the U.S. that Russia is trying to get around the law and give its athletes more opportunities to compete at home. But the Kremlin has denied any such moves could have been taking place.
The situation has become more heated again over the last five months with the latest controversy being the return of four Russian players, including basketball star Andrei Kirilenko, to the U.S. national team. Kirilenko and his fellow returnees were part of the American squad that beat Russia at the 2012 Olympics in London.