Credit: Genevieve Morrison
Opinion: The BAA’s ban of Russian runners is worse than ineffective
Everyone wants to run the marathon. Obviously, it’s hard. It’s tedious, labor-intensive and exhausting. But for people around the world, the Boston Marathon represents something bigger than the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. This year 30,000 people are set to attempt this incredible challenge. As of Wednesday, though, 63 people have been removed from that number.
On Wednesday, the Boston Athletic Association announced that Russian and Belarusian athletes will no longer be allowed to participate in the Boston Marathon in light of the conflict in Ukraine. In a statement, the BAA said, “We believe that running is a global sport, and as such, we must do what we can to show our support to the people of Ukraine.”
That sounds nice, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. Not only is this decision going to show support to Ukraine, it’s also going to ban 63 athletes from their marathon dreams. Could these people be sympathetic to Putin? Sure. Hell, they may be running the marathon on their day off from the Russian Ground Forces. However, it is just as likely that they are ordinary people just like you and me, who have a dream of reaching the top of Heartbreak Hill. The fact is, we don’t know this information, and neither does the BAA.
Punishing independent citizens for the actions of their government has never benefitted us before, and it certainly won’t start now. It’s abundantly clear that Putin’s government is working in spite of its citizens, not with their support. If Russian citizens have made anything obvious over the past several weeks, it is their courage. And as the Kremlin continues to crack down, Russians continue to stand up to its injustice. Recent anti-war demonstrations have led to the arrests of over 3,000 people. And just as likely as those 63 banned runners are your average Joes, they could very well be among the growing number of individuals in opposition to their oppressive government.
What Ukrainian people are experiencing right now is horrific and beyond imagination. At the same time, though, living in Russia isn’t exactly a walk in the park. The Russian government has perpetrated a laundry list of human rights violations between corrupt elections, torture in prisons and religious persecution. The people that have been living under these conditions for decades, I’m sure aren’t thrilled by the invasion of Ukraine, and the subjugation of even more people to Putin’s oppressive regime. Must we punish them further by not allowing them the opportunity to complete this celebrated feat?
The rest of the statement includes commitments to admirable efforts such as not recognizing the Russian flag and offering Ukrainian athletes the option to defer to next year. These are completely reasonable and effective steps to take, and they should be taken. However, the outright ban of all Russian and Belarusian athletes is an egregious overstep that should not be tolerated.
What the BAA may not realize is that beyond the immorality of this choice, they have opened themselves up to a can of political worms. They’ve established that they oppose Russia and therefore will ban their athletes. Alright then. But what happens if and when another country commits crimes similar to Russia? Will their athletes be banned? Where is the line? By taking such a bold step, these are questions that the Boston Athletic Association will now have to answer.
Frankly, this action is nothing more than a cop-out. The BAA clearly wanted to take a strong, visible stance against Russia, which in itself, is admirable. With other companies cutting ties with Russia and showing their blue-and-yellow support on Instagram, the BAA probably thought it was only right to show their own support in a bold way. However, this poorly thought out, highly damaging decision was not the way to go about it. By completely disregarding the entitlement of these qualified, registered runners, BAA has sent a message that they care more about appearances than people. Because as harsh as it might be to say, the people of Ukraine aren’t going to be magically saved from Russia as a result of this ban. If Putin doesn’t respond to an onslaught of sanctions and military threats, I doubt he cares about the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boylston Street.
So, if nothing’s going to change either way, we might as well let those 63 people run the marathon.