AFH Staff Opinion | Athletes Making Their Voices Heard in a Time of Crisis

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Athletes Making Their Voices Heard in a Time of Crisis

by Chris Wyttenbach, AFH Chief Program Officer

What do you stand for? Taking action by standing up for what you believe takes courage. Everyday we have countless opportunities to align one’s beliefs with one’s actions. “I watch what I do, to see what I believe” sounds easy, but it’s not always that straightforward. In some cases unknown consequences lie for those who try to do what’s right. These individuals inspire some, it can challenge others and such actions may come with risk. 

As the war in Ukraine rages on, there have been countless stories of duty, courage, and sacrifice. We pay special attention to the athletes who are standing up for what they believe to be right. Perhaps that’s simply part of an athlete’s DNA? Athletes aren’t deterred by the challenging path before them. They consistently have to choose the hard path to succeed. So  when it’s time to align one’s beliefs with one’s actions, they do it. 

Athletes from around the world decided to stand up for what they thought was right, and use their platform to make their voices heard. The Poland, Czech, and Swedish national soccer teams refused to play Russia in the World Cup qualifiers. These qualifiers are crucial to making the World Cup, but they risked their soccer dreams to condemn the war. The governing body responded by offering to play the game at a neutral team name under a different name, but that wasn’t enough for these teams. They refused to play, and forced FIFA to expel Russia from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.  

Star player Robert Lewandowski had this to say, “It’s the right decision. I can’t imagine playing a match with the Russian National Team in a situation when armed aggression in Ukraine continues. Russian footballers and fans are not responsible for this, but we can’t pretend that nothing is happening.”

Russian tennis player Andrey Rublev used his platform and called for peace by signing “No war in Ukraine” after winning a match at the Dubai Tennis Championship. “In these moments, you realize that my match is not important. It’s not about my match, how it affects me. What’s happening is much more terrible,” Rublev commented. Despite the potential for a harsh punishment for his statement, Rublev used his platform to share what he thought the world needed to hear. 

And, perhaps the greatest example is a trio of Ukrainian boxers who have joined the military to fight the Russian invasion. Current world champion Oleksandr Usyk, and brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko at one point returned to Ukraine to fight for their country. Via their social media platforms, they have shared their harrowing stories and brought attention to the Ukrainian resistance. 

Today athletes are continuing the trend of athlete activism set in motion years ago by AFH Founding Member Muhammad Ali. Ali was one of the first athletes to risk it all for what he thought was right by refusing to fight in the Vietnam war.  Ali paid dearly as he was banned from boxing for 3 of his prime fighting years. The war in Ukraine has forced athletes to risk the comforts that their sports have brought them for something greater. Let us stand in solidarity with them, as they stand for what is just in our world.