When All is Fair in Sports and War

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KARACHI: There have been football players who have been soldiers and who took up the game or players who have gone to put on a uniform and pick up a gun, even players who have been shot at. But even as wars have evolved to include robots, never would have some of the top athletes in the world who play for clubs that are global brands, would have ever imagined that one day they would be used as weapons in an actual war.

This is what is happening at SW6 in the upscale Fulham area of London, home of Chelsea Football Club (FC). Born in a pub this week 117 years ago, for the first time in over a century, the club finds itself in unfamiliar territory. Chelsea FC has been sanctioned by the British government. The restrictions came into force after the UK moved to sanction people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had invaded Ukraine late last month.

It has been nearly three weeks since Russian troops streamed into Ukraine in a mad dash to take over the country, secure its plentiful arsenal of leftover soviet weaponry and stop the creeping advance of western forces which have continued to oppose any Russia backed regime. The war has left thousands of casualties on the ground. Indeed, people on the ground say that the Russians have taken the gloves off in targeting, not just unarmed civilians but also humanitarian facilities such as hospitals.

The west has responded with cautious restraint. It has been careful in the kinds of weapons it picks, opting for the ones which are the least threatening lest it provokes Russia to launch a pan-European military adventure. Having sanctioned around 200 high-value individuals thus far, the British government this week sanctioned seven oligarchs, including Roman Abramovich – who completely owns Chelsea FC and an associated Foundation. Calling Abramovich and fellow sanctioned Russian oligarchs as “kleptocrats” and accusing them of being “complicit in his [Putin’s] aggression”, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in a statement said that “The blood of the Ukrainian people is on their hands. They should hang their heads in shame.”

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