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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Cannes v. Paris 2024: On The Difference Between Banning Russian Athletes Or Artists

While the IOC decides whether to let Moscow’s athletes compete in the 2024 Summer Games, Russian film directors will again be fighting for the right to show their films.

photo of a soldier being blocked by the Russian olympic committee flag

Russia's Olympic Committee flag at the Tokyo Games

Valery Sharifulin/TASS via ZUMA
Emma Albright

PARIS — Before the Cannes Film Festival started last May, festival officials said that, in light of the war in Ukraine, Russian delegations and anyone associated with the government were not welcome.

Still, one Russian director was invited to show his film at the festival: Kirill Serebrennikov, who made “Tchaikovsky's Wife,” had been an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the war in Ukraine.

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But his anti-Putin stance wasn’t enough for some. After his film premiered, an avalanche of criticism and calls to boycott all Russian films flooded the festival. At a press conference in Cannes, Serebrennikov said he understood the anger behind calls for total boycotts of Russians. But, he said, he did not agree with the “canceling” of a nation’s entire culture.

Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux defended the festival’s decision. “We don’t give in to political correctness, we don’t give in to cultural boycott,” he told Variety. “We go on a case-by-case basis.”

Now, France is asking similar questions about banning Russians with the 2024 Olympic games in Paris approaching.

In January, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) agreed that Russians could compete as neutral athletes, without their flag — a decision Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo recently said is unacceptable.

“As long as there is this war, this Russian aggression on Ukraine, it is not possible to pretend as though nothing has happened, to have a delegation that comes to Paris while the bombs continue to rain down on Ukraine,” Hidalgo told French public radio FranceInfo.

If the IOC decision stands, it wouldn't be the first time Russian athletes have competed without their flag. At the opening ceremonies of the Beijing games in 2022, Russians were the only athletes not to enter the arena waving their flag — the third Olympics in which the country had to compete under an Olympic Committee flag after being handed a four-year ban for doping.

Politics of sport

Russian and Belarussian tennis players were banned from competing at Wimbledon in 2022, including Danill Medvedev, who was at the time ranked first in the world. Meanwhile, the Australian Open has allowed some players to compete under a white flag.

The Olympics mission is said to aim to spread peace through sports. But they have always been political, from the 1936 Olympic Berlin games where Adolph Hitler used sports as Nazi propaganda, to the 1980’s U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow games after Russia invaded Afghanistan, and the Los Angeles games of 1984 boycott led by the Soviet Union as payback for the previous games.

Why can Serebrennikov compete at Cannes, but not Russian athletes in Paris?

Putin has long accused the IOC of playing politics, and many Russians seem to share that opinion: a poll taken before the 2016 games, when some Russian athletes were banned for doping, showed that three-quarters of Russians believed the decision aimed to discredit the country.

But for individual athletes, is it fair to be banned from a competition for which they have been training for most of their lives? And what about those who oppose Putin’s regime and condemn the war? In other words, why can Serebrennikov compete at Cannes, but not Russian athletes in Paris?

Maybe there is something about sports — the pure competition — that is different than the personal expression that drive the creative fields.

Indeed for Russia, participating in the Olympics isn’t neutral — it’s part of the country’s foreign policy, a way to build soft power and bolster the country’s image overseas.

As Ukrainian news site Livy Bereg notes, most individual Russian athletes are also members of the Central Sports Club of the Army (CSKA), while others belong to the FSB intelligence service or the Rosgvardiya, which is believed to have been involved in the massacres in Bucha, Ukraine. So can we say that they are truly neutral?

Ukrainian athletes are threatening to boycott the Paris games if Russia and Belarus are allowed to compete. They also take issue with the IOC’s claim that the Olympics unite the world through peaceful competition — a utopian message they say “disregards the way sport is routinely used as a tool of authoritarian states.”

Photo of Kirill Serebrennikov with the cast of \u201cTchaikovsky's Wife\u201d at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival

Kirill Serebrennikov (left) with the cast of “Tchaikovsky's Wife” at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival

Cannes Film Festival Instagram

Individual expression

Serebrennikov has always taken a strong public stand against authoritarianism in Russia, and the wars waged by the Kremlin abroad, and he has participated in protests against the war. As an individual, he stands against his country’s policies.

But athletes represent their country and can only bring victory or defeat.

An individual’s art has the power to relay a message, to criticize or advocate. The artist can speak against their country and argue for their own beliefs. But athletes represent their country and can only bring victory or defeat.

Still for some, there should be no difference between sports and the arts. Andrew Fesiak, a producer and journalist who spoke on a panel in Cannes last year: “With serious war crimes and genocide being committed in Ukraine by the Russian army, we feel strongly that anything and everything that is Russian must be cancelled.”

In a video address last month to a meeting of sports ministers from around the world, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pushed for the outright ban of any Russian athletes at the 2024 Games: “The mere presence of representatives of the terrorist state is a manifestation of violence and lawlessness.”

The final IOC decision on Russian participation in Paris is expected by this coming summer. In the meantime, just three months away, we have Cannes to look forward to.

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The Colonial Spirit And "Soft Racism" Of White Savior Syndrome

Tracing back to Christian colonialism, which was supposed to somehow "civilize" and save the souls of native people, White Savior Syndrome lives on in modern times: from Mother Teresa to Princess Diana and the current First Lady of Colombia, Verónica Alcocer.

photo of a child patient holding hand of an adult

Good intentions are part of the formula

Ton Koene / Vwpics/ZUMA
Sher Herrera


CARTAGENA — The White Savior Syndrome is a social practice that exploits or economically, politically, symbolically takes advantage of individuals or communities they've racialized, perceiving them as in need of being saved and thus forever indebted and grateful to the white savior.

Although this racist phenomenon has gained more visibility and sparked public debate with the rise of social media, it is actually as old as European colonization itself. It's important to remember that one of Europe's main justifications for subjugating, pillaging and enslaving African and American territories was to bring "civilization and save their souls" through "missions."

Even today, many white supremacists hold onto these ideas. In other words, they believe that we still owe them something.

This white savior phenomenon is a legacy of Christian colonialism, and among its notable figures, we can highlight Saint Peter Claver, known as "the slave of the slaves," Bartolomé de Las Casas, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Princess Diana herself, and even the First Lady of Colombia, Verónica Alcocer.

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