Russia, largely excluded from international sports, hosts athletes at BRICS Games

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TALLINN, Estonia — Thousands of athletes in both major and obscure sports will be vying for medals in the Russian city of Kazan at the sixth BRICS Games, an international competition shadowed by politics amid Russia's exclusion from major sports events.

The games opened Wednesday, which Russia observes as its independence day holiday, underlining the key role that sports plays in its national identity.

Since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has been frozen out of the most prominent international competitions and sports associations; some Russian passport holders will be allowed to compete as neutral athletes in the Paris Olympics that begin July 26, but their results will not be credited to Russia.

In that atmosphere, the BRICS Games are a way for Russia to underline its aggrieved claims of prejudice and inequitable treatment by the West and international sports organizations.

"Our country has always adhered to the principle that sport is beyond politics, but we are constantly drawn into the politics, because they understand the importance of sport in the lives of our Russian people," Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, the top government official overseeing the games, said in May.

Oleg Matytsin, who was Russia's sports minister until mid-May, said while organizing the games that they were not intended as a substitute for the Olympics. "We consider that the Olympic Games have no alternative." he said.

But even the games' name carries a strong alternative connotation. BRICS — short for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — has evolved from a group promoting investments into a geopolitical bloc positioning itself as a counterweight to North America and the European Union. It now also includes Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates.

The games have been held each year since 2017 in the country that has the rotating chairmanship of BRICS and have varied widely in the number of the sports included. The first competition was held in China and involved only volleyball, wushu and taolu.

Wushu, also known as kung fu, is the Chinese term for "martial arts." It has had a presence in the Asian Games since 1990. Taolu involves performing sets and choreographed routines that show off principles of attack and defense.

The Kazan iteration is by far the largest and most varied, with medals in 27 sports. The events range from the familiar — including tennis, wrestling and weightlifting — to niche and nascent sports.

There will be competitions in two "phygital" sports — soccer and basketball — that combine physical matchups along with play on video screens. A discipline called "acrobatic rock 'n' roll" also is included, as are belt wrestling and Koresh belt wrestling.

Organizers say they expect about 4,000 participants at the games that run through June 23, but the number of countries represented is elusive. The games' website says only that more than 60 countries were invited, but lists 91 on its medals table. Chernyshenko said entries have been received from 97 countries.

Two of those listed are considered to be actual countries by almost no one — Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgian regions that came under Russian control in a 2008 war and that Moscow later recognized as independent. The participants list also includes Republika Srpska, a constituent state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as a separate entry.


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Jim Heintz


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