Kremlin comments on treason calls for athletes who change nationality


A Russian politician suggested introducing punishments for athletes who swap citizenship

A call for Russian athletes to be considered traitors if they swap nationality is unlikely to gain support, according to presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Russian athletes across a wide range of sports have been sidelined due to bans imposed by international federations following the onset of Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.

That has triggered debate inside Russia about the possibility of more and more athletes seeking to compete under foreign flags to avoid suspensions.

In an apparent bid to deter that from happening, State Duma deputy Roman Teryushkov issued a proposal on his Telegram channel for any athletes turning their backs on Russia to face charges of treason.

Teryushkov noted the costs of developing the athletes inside the Russian sporting system, which he suggested was a wasted investment if they then represented other countries.

“Over the past 10 years, 93 athletes have changed their sports citizenship,” said the politician, who is a member of the United Russia party.

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© Bryn Lennon / Getty Images for ANOC
Russian sports minister speaks on ‘citizenship change’ debate for athletes

“It turns out that the current legislation puts the interests of the individual above the interests of society and the state,” added Teryushkov.

“The president signed a law according to which the transition to the side of the enemy in the conditions of hostilities will be considered treason.

“I believe that the change of sports citizenship for athletes of the national team should also be equated with an act of high treason,” he concluded.

Kremlin spokesman Peskov was asked for his thoughts on the idea – and suggested it was not something he was on board with.

“I don’t believe that this idea will find support,” Peskov told TASS in a brief comment.

READ MORE: Russian boxing giant warns ‘traitors’ against swapping nationality

Numerous Russian sporting figures have been asked for their opinions on the nationality-swap issue in recent months after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended its ban on all Russian athletes on February 28.

Former world heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev – now a Duma Deputy – recently said he did not think Russia would see an exodus of talent, but nonetheless warned that any athletes making a switch would not be looked upon kindly.

“God is the judge for those who still make such a decision. But will the Olympic medal be sweet in their life? Will they not have to while away their lives in oblivion in a foreign land?” asked Valuev.

“In Russia they can probably forgive people for almost anything, but they do not forgive betrayal… You know, in our history even murderers became saints. But traitors – never.”

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(Photo by Alex Nicodim/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Tennis ace explains decision to drop Russian nationality

In contrast, former Olympic ice dance gold medalist Tatiana Navka – who is married to Kremlin spokesman Peskov – has suggested athletes should not be judged too harshly if they change nationalities.

“As for athletes changing citizenship, I can say that you should not react so sharply to their actions and tar everyone with the same brush,” Navka said back in April.

“It is not worth indiscriminately calling everyone traitors. Everyone has their own life, their own story, and their own reasons. Everyone has the right to their choice.” 

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