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There has been a lot of talk recently about excluding Russians and Belarusians from sport. The general idea seems to be that the sporting bodies don't want to give the players a platform to speak. Lots of places are banning teams, but fewer are banning players. Excluding someone on the basis of what their country is doing is a pretty big step—one that I haven't seen in a long time. There are well-documented human rights abuses in a variety of countries, but these tend to be internal; it has been a while since one country has been so openly hostile to another.

These exclusions are, of course, fraught with difficulties over fairness, productivity and the like. This post isn't intending to discuss those—they are perhaps better suited to another SE, such as politics, anyway. Rather, it asks,

What examples are there in recent history where individuals and/or teams have been banned from competing on the basis of disapproval of their country's actions?

Certainly, a lot of exclusion of Russians and Belarusians is going on at the moment. I am interested in this historical context of these decisions, whether they have solid precedent or not.


It seems like there are a number of cases related to the exclusion of national teams—see the answers given below. I would be particularly interested if anyone has examples for individuals.

My main sport is tennis, so I had a look at Davis Cup—the team–tennis tournament. It seems that Yugoslavia was part of it in 1999 and Yugoslavians were playing tennis, pretty much as normal, throughout that year. This is the year in which Belgrade was bombed for ~7wks consistently by NATO. It's hard to get information on tennis over 20yrs ago, but it doesn't seem like players were excluded—but, as I say, it is hard to find information.

Wimbledon is (currently) banning Russian and Belarusian players—they can play on the world tour under a neutral flag and at French Open, but Wimbledon is forbidding their participation at all. Precedent for this decision was actually my main motivation for this question.

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  • Do state-run doping programs count? On the one hand, it's a country's actions to perform such actions into which they were subsequently banned, but on the other hand, it's a "internal" sporting matter rather than an "external" matter as is the case currently. The specific example I'm thinking off is the "official" exclusion of Russia from the Olympics, with some Russian athletes competing as members of the ROC.
    – ImClarky
    May 13 at 15:41
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    @ImClarky That's a difficult one! I would probably say, "No, it isn't included." My understanding is that it's the Olympic team which is excluded, due to actions that the team has taken—namely, doping. Sure, it was state-sponsored. But it's because of what the team did and the lack of trust in the legitimacy of its actions. The members still play as ROC/similar, so they aren't excluded.
    – user24601
    May 13 at 16:02
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    @user24601 I'm going to revert your most recent change here. I appreciate this is your preferred style, but Stack Exchange style is for the question to read as one body of work without "updates" or the like. On a more minor note, the title should be a question, not a statement and we use typical American English capitalisation (i.e. only proper nouns are capitalised).
    – Philip Kendall
    May 16 at 15:00
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    @PhilipKendall I have made it all a single flow, no update. I prefer title cases for titles and sentence cases for sentences. There is no rule on this as far as I can see and there are many examples of both. I have thus chosen to leave it in my preferred format. Hope you understand :)
    – user24601
    May 16 at 16:51

2 Answers 2

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The major precedent for this would be apartheid-era South Africa. From 1964 until the end of apartheid, South Africa was excluded from the Olympic Games due to its refusal to field an integrated team. In 1976, 25 other African nations demanded that New Zealand be kicked out of the IOC for conducting a rugby tour of South Africa, and when the IOC refused, those nations boycotted that year's Montreal Olympics in protest.

In the years following the Olympic exclusion, South African teams and athletes were systematically frozen out of pretty much every single international sporting competition. They were banned from the FIFA World Cup staring with England '66 (and expelled from FIFA entirely in 1976), the first two Rugby World Cups in 1987 and 1991, and the Davis Cup from 1979 after an initial ban between 1970-1972. Formula One, however, continued to hold races in South Africa until 1985, when it was boycotted by multiple teams and drivers.

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  • Don't forget that worked both ways. South Africa refused entry to the England cricket team because of the selection of Basil D'Oliviera.
    – Chenmunka
    May 13 at 20:55
  • Good example! I tried to +1, but not enough rep. I always feel that Olympics are very country-centred—I guess particularly because of all the sports together, with the different sportspeople all considered part of the same team even cross-discipline. A more pertinent example would be, eg, SA being banned from Rugby World Cup due to apartheid. Still, a good example all the same, thanks!
    – user24601
    May 14 at 12:11
  • I see, eg, that SA played cricket in England in 1965, whilst banned from Olympic Games. Australia played in SA in 1966–1967. However, England and Australia clashes with SA were cancelled in 1970, but only after protests, it appears. @Chenmunka is this the tour you were referencing?
    – user24601
    May 14 at 12:17
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    @user24601 I've updated the answer to add a few more specific examples, including the Rugby World Cup.
    – F1Krazy
    May 15 at 8:30
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    Ah, I have enough rep to give +1 now! Thanks again for the references :)
    – user24601
    6 hours ago
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Actually looking at Yugoslavia was a good idea, but the year was wrong. Yugoslavia qualified for the football European Championship in 1992, but was disqualified only a few weeks before the tournament, Denmark had to play instead. The Danish players had to be literally called from the beaches (they were already on holiday), but eventually won the whole thing.

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  • Thanks for the references! Interesting to see when countries are/aren't banned. Funny anecdote, too, about Denmark—I'll have to remember that one!
    – user24601
    May 16 at 9:58
  • I was just reading a little on that UN sanction. It's interesting that they were disqualified—if I'm reading it correctly—in essence by the UN. It wasn't the the Euros made a decision to disqualify them on their own, in the style that Wimbledon is. Moreover, Yugoslavia were not invited to the Olympics that year, but individual Yugoslavians could enter as independents—somewhat akin to the current Russian Olympic ban
    – user24601
    May 16 at 13:51
  • Ah, I have enough rep to give +1 now! Thanks again for the references :)
    – user24601
    6 hours ago

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