Solomon: Should Russian Athletes Be Banned Simply for Where Their Passport Is From?


For those of you blissfully unfamiliar with OnlyFans, it’s a London-based technology company that allows people to post “adult” (i.e. pornographic) content of themselves that they can then sell to the (over 18) public on a subscription basis.

Over the weekend, several OnlyFans creators alleged that they were kicked off the site because they’re Russian. If true, this raises an important point about what powerful websites and organizations — such as professional sports leagues — are allowed to do, even in times of crisis.

Sanctioning professional Russian athletes is different from not allowing amateur Russian athletes to participate in the Olympics. By suspending or removing Russians from professional leagues, the idea is that these wealthy, influential star athletes will then exert anti-Putin pressure back in Russia. It is somewhat similar to imposing economic sanctions against Russian oligarchs — the more uncomfortable the West can make life for Russian elites, the more difficult life will in turn become for Putin.

At the same time as the OnlyFans issue was playing out, Alexander Ovechkin, an NHL player once regarded by many as the best hockey player in the world, gave a lukewarm anti-war message in a news conference. While he said that he wants “no more war,” his message rang hollow to many people around the world who clearly recall that Ovechkin has been a friend and leader of the pro-Putin political movement.

In fact, former NHL player Dominik Hasek immediately fired away at Ovechkin, blasting his weak comments and using a series of words probably best reserved for OnlyFans. In the same rant, he called for the NHL to suspend the contracts of all Russian players.

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WARNING: The following contains strong language that some readers will find offensive.

It’s not only the NHL that has a high concentration of Russian athletes. Individual sports such as men’s and women’s tennis have not only a significant number of Russian players, but many at or near the top of the rankings.

Should sports leagues suspend professional Russian athletes?

If the Russian war in Ukraine continues, there will surely be more calls to sanction these individual Russian athletes and, ahem, content creators. But from a legal perspective, no matter how strong the desire, it won’t be easy.

Michael Epstein, a New Jersey lawyer, summed up the problem here for OnlyFans and any sports league considering banning Russian participants: “Without a contract clause that gives the website or league a clear out, they just can’t target the individual based upon the passport they hold.”

There is also the practical complexity of expecting a Russian athlete to speak out against the Putin regime. While many Russian athletes no longer live in Russia but instead reside in and may be citizens of other countries, they almost certainly have family members in Russia. They simply can’t risk speaking up and endangering loved ones.

On Sunday, the Czech Republic joined Sweden and Poland in their refusal to play Russia in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament.

Things really heated up on Sunday night and Monday morning when the two most corrupt sports organizations in the world weighed in. Sunday saw FIFA, soccer’s governing body, sanction Russia, while Monday saw the International Olympic Committee actually ask all sports organizations around the world to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from international events.

As long as Russian aggression rages on in Ukraine, there will be calls for sanctions that impact not only massive Russian businesses and the billionaires that run them, but also those high-profile individuals who have a 24/7 presence on social and traditional media. If it’s athletes and OnlyFans creators today, next week it could be Instagram and TikTok influencers and, ultimately, simply people with large social followings.

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A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the chief legal analyst for Esquire Digital and 24-7 Abogados. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Solomon has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, the Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo, ABA Journal,, The Boston Globe, NewsBreak and many other leading publications.