Europe At War: What Does This Mean In The Sports World?
Updated: Feb 25, 2022
Late in the night gunfire and explosions would ring out across Ukraine, with dozens dead and Russian tanks on the Ukrainian streets a new war had just begun. Russia has invaded Ukraine with a force so big that is incomparable unless you go back to the second world war. The wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday, February 24th hit cities and bases with air strikes along with shelling, as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee. Ukraine's government said Russian tanks and troops rolled across the border in a "full-scale war" that could rewrite the geopolitical order. Russia has claimed that they have wiped out Ukraine’s air defense systems as Ukraine reports shooting down multiple Russian military planes and taking POWs.
This takes place just days after the end of the 2022 Olympics, but the buildup started several weeks before the world wide sporting event. One of the biggest questions when it comes to this European war, how will it affect sports?
In WW2 we saw all automobile and motorcycle racing suspended in America for the entire duration of the war due to gas and rubber rationing. Major League Baseball continued on for the morale of the public, but thousands of major and minor leaguers elected to join the war effort such as Ted Williams, Yogi Berra and Hank Greenberg. Football was just at the starting point of its decades-long fandom, despite that over 1,000 players and coaches went to help with the war effort. The sudden and massive shortage of players had a league-wide player shortage where at one point the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles combined teams to form the Steagles, the team went 5-4-1. Basketball was in its infancy as it did not fully start to grow both as a league and in popularity until several years after the war. Thousands of professional basketball players contributed to the war effort, many never came home. NCAA sports were almost non-existent, almost all youth and strong athletes went to war to fight for their country.
When it comes to Ukraine in sports, one of the most famous wartime sporting events featured the then Soviet country. In August of 1942, during the Nazi occupation of the Ukrainian city of Kiev, a team composed of Luftwaffe antiaircraft gunners calling themselves Flak Elf (Antiaircraft Eleven), many of who were ex-professional players faced off at the Zenit Stadium against a team called FC Start. FC Start was made up of malnourished Dynamo Kiev players, the two teams had earlier played each other where Start won with a 5-1 score. This time there would be no embarrassing defeat for the German based team. Before the match, an SS officer told the Kiev team that they would lose or face consequences of winning. This soccer match would be called the “Match of Death” by game's end. To ensure a Flak Elf win a German referee presided over the match and implied to the Kiev players at the pregame coin toss that they must give the Nazi salute and also that it would be smart if they blow the game and lose. The game was not fully. ‘rigged’ but fearing for life is pretty close to that. Before kickoff the German players gave the one-armed salute and shouted, “Heil, Hitler!” while the FC Start players put their hands to their chests saying the Soviet slogan, “Physical culture, hooray!” The local fans cheered, but that cheering would soon be silent as the Start would lose 5-2.
I want to stress that as of now (2/24/22) only two countries are at war, Russia and Ukraine. This article is based on what sports may look like if America decides to go into war. Already in the sports world we have seen Formula One make a statement that they are monitoring what is going on with Russia. The popular open-wheeled auto racing series is set to race at the Russian Grand Prix later this year. Several drivers such as Sebastian Vettel and defending champion Max Verstappen have announced they will not compete in the GP as of now. The HAAS Formula One team also announced that they will remove Russian sponsor Uralkali, running a plain white livery for the final day of testing.