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Arthur Christory / Gavel Media

The Banning of Russian and Belarusian Runners from Boston Marathon

In the weeks leading up to the biannual, much anticipated Boston Marathon—commonly referred to as Marathon Monday—many of us have grown accustomed to seeing its participants jogging around Boston in preparation for the physically and mentally demanding task of running down the road we continually cross every marathon. However, there are a handful of participants who will not be rewarded for their efforts, as they will not have the chance to adorn their number or cross the 26.6-mile finish line. 

The Boston Athletic Association chief executive Tom Grilk explained that the decision to ban Russian and Belarusian runners was established to demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine, in response to the recent Russian invasion of the country. “Like so many around the world," Grilk commented, "we are horrified and outraged by what we have seen and learned from the reporting in Ukraine." Given the proximity of the ban to the date of the actual marathon, many wonder about its fairness for those it affects, as well as whether it was the most effective means to show support for Ukraine. 

On April 6, the Boston Athletic Association officially announced its ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes, preventing them from running in the marathon. The ban applies to athletes whose nationalities are Russian and Belarusian specifically, but doesn’t include Russian and Belarusian athletes who aren’t current residents of either nation, and they will be allowed to represent other nations. This additional clause was likely added to emphasize the intended punishment for Russia, as it’s not a ban pertaining to ethnicity, but rather nationality. 

While this is certainly relieving for Russian and Belarusian athletes of other nationalities, it seems unjust for those who still claim the motherland as their official home. One such person is Katia Zykova, a Russian runner that first registered to run in the 2020 Boston Marathon prior to its pandemic cancellation, who was enthusiastically looking forward to running in her first Boston Marathon. 

In an interview with Leila Fadel, Zykova admitted that “If it can help even one person in Russia to understand that… you can't support [this war]... if it will help people to think about it from this side… I will take it.” Despite Zykova's disappointment, she is content with the decision, so long as the ban teaches the Russian people that the Kremlin isn’t fighting a just or noble war. 

Even given Zykova's hopes, the abundance of propaganda within her country stating otherwise. The Russian people's isolation is likely increasing as the actions of The Boston Athletic Association simply echoed those of other sports organizations who felt the same need to remove Russians from their events. Among this expanding list of groups is the prominent FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Previously, the IOC has only ever banned countries for profound violations of international conduct, such as the Axis Powers in World War II or the 30-year ban on South Africa for its continued implementation of apartheid. 

While the ban may be effective at relaying its message of condemnation toward the Russian government, it neglects to account for the consequences it has on the actual Russian and Belarusan athletes registered for the marathon. In that same interview with Fadel, Nina Zarina, a Russian-American athlete, stated that “we don't choose the place where we were born. And I hope to see in future, the decision, that so powerful decision, will be made based on people actions, not only by the nationality.” There are likely countless Russian citizens who are strongly opposed to the actions of their government, and as seen in other authoritarian states, the views of a government do not reflect that of the people. Zarina hopes for a future in which the Russian people, or any nation’s people, aren’t punished or defined by the views of their government, but by the collective nature of their own individual actions.

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