Political Sport in Eastern Europe


The Winter Olympics in Sochi have been a great success. Congratulations go to Russia and to Chief Executive, Dmitry Chernyshenko, for pulling it off. All world events have their hiccups, but Russia managed to pave over most of them. What the Olympics has not paved over is the continuing economic and political dislocation that is going on in Eastern Europe. In Ukraine, the country’s currency, the hryvnia, has fallen to its lowest value against the Dollar since its inception. Current currency reserves sit at circa $17bn. This is not even enough to cover two months of imports to the country. The Government is seeing their control slowly slip away. Perhaps the country will go off-piste? While Sportsmen and women stand tall for their countries on snow and ice, it is another sporting figure who has fought to prominence in the Ukrainian political landscape. Vitali Klitschko has brought all of the charisma he showed in the ring to the political arena. It remains to be seen whether the political gravitas he commands is down to his skills in leadership, state-fare and debate or whether it is simply as a result of his sporting achievements. There have been suggestions he may be barred from any future presidential race. His response to this is in the typical no-nonsense approach. He said “I will fight it. This is a battle, and I don’t plan to give up easily.” In any event, this is a match-up that seems to set to go the whole 12 rounds. Just as in the skeleton or on the mogul field, one false move and Ukraine could come unstuck and off course, only to crash, burn and rue what might have been.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is also recovering from a period of civil unrest and is in need of strong leadership. A general election is eight months away. While protests have subsided, there are fears they could escalate at any moment. The violence came to a peak on February 7 when protestors ransacked and burned government buildings in Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zenica. They shall have to pick themselves up and dust themselves off. Their football team will be travelling to Rio this summer for their maiden World Cup appearance. It is a fine achievement and great source of national pride. Stoke Goalkeeper, Asmir Begovic, thinks it could have a great effect on the country. He said “Bosnia hasn’t had much to cheer about over the last few years, so it has been nice to put a smile on people’s face and to put the country on the map.” As it stands, Bosnia and Herzegovina is not on the map for the right reasons.

In Britain, we have seen from our own Olympics that sports can unite people, communities and a nation. Just as in the Ukraine and Russia, it will be interesting to see what long-term effect sport, and its heroes, will have on the political and social landscape.

Ed Ludlow

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