IESF Ruling Reignites Russia-Ukraine Tensions in eSports

IESF Ruling Reignites Russia-Ukraine Tensions in eSports

The Ukrainian national CS:GO team has withdrawn from the IESF World eSports Championship 2023 following a ruling that welcomes Russian players back to the competition.

Other Ukrainian teams, including Dota 2, PUBG, Mobile, Mobile Legends, and eFootball, have also withdrawn.

Russia and Ukraine

Tensions have flared after the IESF World eSports Championship voted to readmit Russian players for future tournaments.

Russian players have been banned or forced to play as neutrals since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The IESF congress rejected a proposal to suspend the Russian eSports Federation (RESF). A total of 32 delegates voted for Russia’s reinstatement. Thirteen voted against, and 25 abstained.

The decision immediately stirred up controversy, as eSports bucks the trend of Russian and Belarusian exclusion from sporting events such as the Olympics.

The Ukrainian eSports Federation (UESF) vociferously protested the move. UESF executive director Anton Markelov promised to fight the IESF’s stance.

“We’re shocked,” he said.

“Everything should be different. We made speeches; we negotiated with almost every country about our position; everyone expressed support, but it turned out to be only in words.”

“We will block all IESF Championships until they change their decision. Our national teams that are currently competing in the Romanian Championships will be encouraged to do so as well, but we cannot force them to do so.”

Russian spirits were rising even as the Ukrainian body was reeling from the decision.

United by sport?

Following the vote, Dmitry Smith, President of the RESF, talked about the role of sport in bringing people together.

“Of course, this is great news,” said Smith. “In our understanding, sport should unite, and any form of discrimination against athletes based on nationality and any other grounds is unacceptable. Therefore, we are glad that we were able to achieve the cancellation of the previous decision, and our team will finally compete under its own flag.”

If the vote to reinstate Russia was designed to unite, it fell flat on its face at the first hurdle. The withdrawal of Ukrainian teams across multiple events, including Dota 2, PUBG, Mobile, Mobile Legends, and eFootball, is testimony to the division sown by the IESF’s decision.

Ukrainian eSports organization IKLA made their feelings clear by pulling out of playing Serbia on Sept. 1. The body called the vote a “disgraceful decision.”

eSports and politics

The management of eSports is becoming increasingly political. The vote to reinstate Russia is just one of a number of decisions that raised eyebrows at the IESF.

Multiple reports indicate that the IESF also rejected votes related to gender and LGBT equality.

The congress was held in the Romanian city of Iași and played host to several high-profile dignitaries, including Prince Omar bin Faisal of Jordan and Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan al Saud, the VP of IESF and VP of the Saudi eSports Federation, respectively.

Prince Faisal is said to have left the event before the vote took place.

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.