Sports without politics? How Belarusian propaganda worked the topic of the moving of the hockey championship 

Sports without politics? How Belarusian propaganda worked the topic of the moving of the hockey championship

A volley of propaganda around the moving of the World Ice Hockey Championship from Belarus was quickly overtaken by other current events. Accusing the insidious West of playing a game without rules and Svetlana Tikhanovskaya of betrayal, complaining about the deprivation of Belarusian children and sports fans of the hockey celebration and positive emotions, state propaganda set to work several topics.

«The IIHF fell under pressure»: A worldwide game without rules against Minsk

The state media played the move of the hockey championship from Belarus primarily through messaging about betrayal by the West and the Belarusian opposition of the sacred principle of «sports without politics»: «Belarus was deprived of the tournament, setting aside sports principles… An honest and uncompromising game turned into a backstage quarrel even before the first puck drop,» said the television channel ONT.

Another similar statement from the same television station: «There are no objective reasons. There are politics, the pressure of which the sports authorities unfortunately could not withstand. The pressure turned out to be stronger than the inviolability of the principle of «sports without politics.»

Stubbornly ignoring the legal breakdown and mass repressions, the resonance of the murder of Roman Bondarenko, and the significant underestimation of the scale of the coronavirus epidemic as objective reasons that predetermined the moving of the championship from Belarus, Belarusian state television channels chose to pounce on the West and the Belarusian opposition.

The pro-Kremlin media fully supported the messages about the evil West, which, they say, had unreasonably attacked Russia in the sports realm and deprived its athletes of the right to compete in international competitions.

One of the guests on Sputnik Belarus reduced the situation to «Russophobia in the West and especially in Latvia,» and another commentator used the classic propaganda technique of comparing modern Western states (and Ukraine) with Nazi Germany:

«There is a full-fledged attack being waged on Belarus from three sides: from the north, south and, of course, from the West. Under these conditions, holding a sports event in Minsk is about the same as organizing a parade of athletes in Minsk at the end of June (1941) with the tanks having long passed Brest and moving directly to the capital.»

«The IIHF fell under pressure and the World Ice Hockey Championship has been moved from Belarus,» reported the television channel ONT, but chose not to go into details about under pressure from whom. The channel Belarus-1 quite extensively referred to the «European politicians» as those guilty for the pressure.

The decision of the International Ice Hockey Federation was largely influenced by the principled position of several companies sponsoring the championship. The Czech automaker Škoda; the Nivea Men cosmetics brand for men, owned by the German concern Beiersdorf; and the German manufacturer of automotive oils and lubricants Liqui Moly clearly expressed their position, citing their reluctance to support sports in Belarus in connection with massive human rights violations in the country. As a result, the IIHF decided that the championship will be held only in Latvia, with which Belarus was originally supposed to share the event.

Regarding the arguments of the sponsoring companies of the hockey championship state propaganda either preferred to keep silent or talk at length about «pressure on sponsors» and «committed armchair experts.» This is how thousands of messages of Belarusians were christened in companies’ social media accounts. Also, Belarusian television viewers were offered groundless conspiracy theories on the transfer of the championship. Here is how ONT reported on the personal reasons for the transfer and bitterness of one of the higher authorities of the IIHF:

«One of the initiators of the transfer of the tournament from Minsk was the Vice President of the Federation, Kalervo Kummola, who spoke about it back in September, though the Finn harbored resentment much earlier. In Cologne in 2017. When Minsk and Riga won the right to host the tournament, beating Helsinki.»


Tikhanovskaya took away the children’s dream

Instead of enlightening their audience with the real reasons for the postponement of the championship, which are connected to the actions of Belarusian state bodies, state media began to criticize Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who supposedly brought losses to Belarusian business and moral suffering for sports fans and Belarusian children.

According to the Russian propagandist Armen Gasparyan, quoted by ONT, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and her team, expressing their satisfaction with the transfer of the championship, thoroughly «deprived themselves of the opportunity to be called Belarusians.»

Parliamentarian Vitaly Utkin on STV also unloaded responsibility for the transfer of the championship on Tikhanovskaya: «Tikhanovskaya and company tore back the curtain through their actions and showed what they really want for the Belarusian people.»

According to state media, the primary victim of Tikhanovskaya’s sinister provocation was Belarusian business, but even more so the fans and Belarusian children.

«Every child has a dream of their own, but their parents have an even bigger dream. Today there is a huge army of fans who not only buy skates for their children, but also great hockey specialists who would match up to any professional. They were also looking forward to the home world championship,» reported STV television on behalf of the children.

And here is an additional selection of quotes from state television channels with the same message:

● «We all had these were crazy experiences and unforgettable emotions taken from us and our team was deprived of the opportunity to play at home

● «Belarusian fans were improperly deprived of a celebration and the opportunity to enjoy the playing of the best national teams.»

«The entire hockey world has lost its sports celebration.»

● «Through these actions, people themselves are the first to suffer.»

● «But what about the children who live for hockey and dreamed of seeing superstars on their own ice in Minsk?»

● «Dear officials from IIHF, you did not take the world championship from Belarus. You took the world championship and a dream away from the children.»


Where did «sports without politics» come from?

Since the state media repeatedly refers to the principle of «sports without politics,» it is worth determining when and where it originated and what it represents. One version is that Iphitos, king of Elis, followed the wise advice of the oracle and revived the forgotten Olympic Games. The Games were used to temporarily put a stop to the strife and wars that reigned among the ancient Greek states and carried a religious meaning in appeasing the gods. Olympus was declared a sacred place and arriving there with weapons was tantamount to sacrilege.

In its original form, the idea of «sports without politics» had its limits since it was based on mutual agreement. The participants in the Games were obliged to comply with their part of the agreement, namely, to cease hostilities and to guarantee the safety and security of people while traveling through their territory at the time of the competition. Those offenders who attempted to seize territory during the Games were barred from participating in the competition.

Using this ancient Greek analogy, the Belarusian authorities have violated this agreement, using systematic violence against citizen while remaining unable to guarantee the health safety of visitors and resorting to manipulating coronavirus statistics. Therefore, appeals to «sports without politics» are irrelevant from the Belarusian side. Not noticing the «log in its own eye» [trans. note – from the Russian equivalent of «those who live in glass houses»], Minsk began to levy blame on others, accusing them of violating a «fundamental principle.» Having deprived the country of the championship through repressions and an inadequate response to the epidemic, the Belarusian authorities began to blame their political rivals and Western states, hiding behind «celebration-deprived» children.

Материал доступен на русском языке: Спорт вне политики? Как белорусская пропаганда отработала тему переноса хоккейного чемпионата