ZURICH (Reuters) - When a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) team played at the 1992 European championship in place of the former Soviet Union, they wore bland shirts with no badge and Beethoven’s ninth symphony replaced a national anthem before games.
A lacklustre performance ensued, culminating in a 3-0 loss to already-eliminated Scotland, and they finished bottom of their group.
This was in stark contrast to the previous year when they had qualified unbeaten, still playing as the Soviet Union — which was disbanded in December 1991 — with CCCP emblazoned on their iconic red shirts.
Some reports at the time suggested the team’s failure was a psychological one as the absence of flag and national anthem had left the team feeling they did not have an identity.
It raises the question as to whether the same thing could happen to Russia if they qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
Russia was banned from taking part in or hosting world championships, including the World Cup, for four years on Monday as part of doping sanctions imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Yet there was a caveat: federations such as global soccer body FIFA could allow Russia to take part on a neutral basis, without flying the flag or playing the national anthem, providing the athletes can prove they are clean.
This would open the door to a Russian team in some guise playing in 2022, providing FIFA can find a mechanism for this to happen.
The intricacies of the WADA decision also mean that Russia can take part in World Cup qualifiers as usual and host both Euro 2020 matches and the 2021 Champions League final as these are considered continental championships and therefore outside the scope of the ban.
For some critics, such as the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), this merely allows Russia to carry on as normal.
“Clean athletes, sports fans and sponsors are having to suffer through another horrendous Groundhog Day of Russian corruption and domination,” it said.
The anthem ban, however, could still hurt. During Euro 2016, researchers looked at the passion with which the players sung their national anthems before each of the 51 matches.
In a study published in the European Journal of Sport Science, they concluded that “teams that sang national anthems with greater passion went on to concede fewer goals.”
The also found that in the knockout stages of the tournament “greater passion was associated with a greater likelihood of victory.”
It found that Switzerland and Spain, who both sang with “low levels of passion”, failed to make the quarter-finals while Wales and Italy, two of the countries who sang with the most passion, reached the semi-finals and quarter-finals respectively.
Spain’s anthem does not have any words but the researchers said their study had also looked at non-verbal indicators including the athletes’ facial expressions and body language.
Jorge Leyva, chief executive of iNADO, the umbrella organisation for national anti-doping agencies, suggested denying Russia their flag, anthem and national team shirt could cause an impact, although he recognised that many athletes and fans wanted stronger sanctions.
“Competing under neutral flag is a strong contrast (difference) for Russian athletes, Russian sport federations, Russian sponsors, and Russian fans,” he said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
While faces and names of athletes would remain recognisable, “the national flag and anthem both bear large symbolic weight,” he added.
“My personal impression is that for a sportingly successful country like Russia, the sanction represents a big deprivation,” he said, adding that a neutral team would “would be a strong reminder to everyone why Russia got to that point.”
He disagreed, however, that Russia should be allowed to host major events simply because they were considered continental.
“The nuances of the definition is rather hard to explain to athletes and the general public,” he said. “The sanction loses in consistency and clarity and this goes in detriment of trust in the sport.”
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis