The Boston Marathon’s Ban on Russian Athletes Is Hypocritical Xenophobia

Russian and Belarusian marathon organizers have asked their athletes to hike. The Boston Athletic Association (BAA), announced Wednesday afternoon that participants from both Belarus and Russia who have already been qualified for elite races would not be permitted to take part due to the Russian invasion in Ukraine.

“Like so many around the world, we are horrified and outraged by what we have seen and learned from the reporting in Ukraine,” said President and CEO of the BAA Tom Grilk in a statement. “We are convinced that running can be a global sport. As such, we should do our best to support the people of Ukraine.”

Last year, 35 Russians participated in the marathon. BAA stated that it would do everything in their power to reimburse the 2022 Russian- and Belarusian participant’s registration fees.

It isn’t just the BAA that has rushed to get rid of anything Russian as a result of the Ukraine war. Everyone and everything from academic journals, film festivals, state liquor stores, and more have said they want nothing to do with Russia or its people.

These boycotts have repeatedly punished Russians who have had little to no involvement in the government’s war against Ukraine. They couldn’t even stop it. As well, the BAA ban on Russian or Belarusian athletes was poorly targeted. It is not clear that the exclusions were intended to show that they supported or assisted in any manner with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Even Russians are not exempt. You can find it hereSpeak out against war still suffers cancellation and shun.

Residency in a country which has suffered atrocities as serious or equal to Russia’s has not been shown to disqualify you from the Boston Marathon.

15 Ethiopian-born residents participated in the marathon for men on October 20, 2021. Two of the three top spots were claimed by Ethiopians. The war in Tigrayan regions of Ethiopia saw the Ethiopian government accused of torturing and killing Tigrayan soldiers.

Two residents from Saudi Arabia, and fifteen people from the United Arab Emirates took part in the Boston Marathon 2019. Their respective governments were already four years into the bombing campaign against Yemen, which, according to Human Rights Watch had hit “hospitals and school buses, markets. mosques. farms. bridges. factories. detention centers.” The U.S. still plays a significant role in the conflict’s financing.

Participants from all over the world, including those from China, Venezuela and other countries that have authoritarian or shady government, were welcome to the Boston Marathon.

BAA’s decision to allow residents of other countries, whose governments committed the same sins as aggressive war and mass civil killings, shows it isn’t acting in universal revulsion against government atrocities. The decision seems more like a knee-jerk disapproval of the most public war currently underway. That isn’t a very noble attitude.

The BAA would have to be very difficult to exclude every athlete who comes from a nation with a bad government. It would be difficult for the BAA to set a uniform policy regarding when and how to exclude certain nationalities. It would be less inclusive, and the marathon may lose international recognition. The marathon may lose some of its participants in the country. Perhaps U.S. runners shouldn’t have competed in the Boston Marathon 2003 because of their government invasion of Iraq.

It doesn’t make the world any better if athletes are treated as an appendage of their governments or sporting events treated as continuations of war and political politics. 

We need international events to allow for peaceful competition and collaboration, particularly in times like war or conflict. The Boston Marathon excludes Russians. This is a step in the wrong direction.