Vladimir Putin: The world of sport has shunned the Russian president. So what?

(CNN)As Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, the grim reality of war has taken center stage, with more than two million Ukrainians fleeing the country and hundreds dead, according to the UN.

Russia is already paying a price for its aggression -- countries around the world are imposing sanctions and the Russian ruble has plunged even further against the dollar, hitting record lows.
A plethora of international sports organizations and governing bodies have also responded to the invasion targeting Russia and its athletes with sanctions of varying severity, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has been stripped of multiple honorary sporting titles.
    Notably Russian and Belarusian athletes were not allowed to compete at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing after multiple other countries' athletes and teams threatened not to compete at the Games, according to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has recommended a ban for Russian and Belarusian athletes competing in international competition.
      "The situation is monstrous, of course. This is a disgrace for the International Paralympic Committee," said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters following the decision.
        The IOC also announced that it had withdrawn the Olympic Order -- the highest award of the Olympic movement -- from Putin.
        "The IOC was viewed as having a close relationship with Russia," Michael Payne, former head of marketing at the IOC, told CNN.
          "The fact that the IOC has now issued a set of sanctions to Russia, which, in my view, are probably the strongest sanctions the IOC has ever issued ... since probably the early 60s when the IOC banned South Africa for its apartheid regime," he said.
          Meanwhile, world football's governing body, FIFA, and European soccer body, UEFA, have suspended all Russian international and club teams from their competitions "until further notice."
          Vladimir Putin kicks a football during an event in the Red Square on June 28, 2018 in Moscow.
          "Vladimir Putin has been passionate about both sports and using sport to project Russia's importance on the world stage and giving back to the Russian people a sense of pride in their success on the world stage."
          Payne added that the most immediate impact of sanctions could be to challenge the Kremlin's narrative on the conflict, with ordinary Russians wondering what has happened to events they were due to host.
          UEFA announced last month that this year's Champions League final will no longer take place in St. Petersburg's Krestovsky Stadium, which is sponsored by Russian state-owned company Gazprom, and will now be moved to the Stade de France in Paris to be played on the original date of May 28.
          "There can be no misunderstanding: no amount of control of the Russian media is able to explain what's going on in the sports world, that they've suddenly been banished," Payne said.
          Russia is covering the country's invasion of Ukraine very differently to CNN and other western news outlets. A new law forbids media operating in Russia to use the words "war," "attack" or "invasion" to describe Putin's decision to unleash his forces against Ukraine. Instead, they are to use the Kremlin's Orwellian phrase: "special military operation."
          Russians' access to social media like Facebook and Twitter has also been severely restricted.
          "Sanctions may cause ordinary Russians to ask why can't they see their Russian athletes performing? And clearly, then there's prompting the Russian people to say 'What's going on?'" Payne said.​
          "Will Putin care about having to give his Olympic gold order back or what the rest of the international world thinks of him? Probably not.
          "Will he care about what all the local Russians are saying, 'Hang on, what is going on?' Absolutely."

          Sports as a nationalist tool

          Lukas Aubin, associate researcher at The French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) and a specialist in the geopolitics of Russia and sports, told CNN Sport that Putin carefully curates his image so that observers are aware of his sporting prowess, on a national and international level.
          "When Putin arrived at power in 2000, one of his first decisions was to invite his former coach in judo [to the Kremlin]," he said.
          The Russian premier has also been pictured ice swimming, fishing and bare-chested horseback riding.
          Putin attends a gala match of the Night Hockey League teams at the Bolshoy ice arena on May 10, 2017 in Sochi, Russia.
          "Today, President Putin uses sports as an element of his power. And not only as a part of his personality because he also has created a big sporting system. He's using oligarchs, politics, former athletes, to create a machine.
          "It's a big system, where people [are] driven by Putin in the directions that they need to create a beautiful picture of Russia, in the world of sports," he added.
          This worked for the most part, Aubin said.
          "It worked because in 2014, we are seeing the Sochi Olympics. Then four years after, we are seeing the World Cup. It is really very hard to say how many international sporting events Russia [has] hosted the past 10 years -- it's really a lot. At the beginning, it was a huge element of soft power," Aubin added.
          Vera Tolz, professor of Russian studies at the University of Manchester, told CNN Sport that Putin has used Russian nationalism "instrumentally and very systematically" as a way of legitimizing his regime since he came to power.
          "Nationalism -- and the kind of national unification with promoting particular versions of history, of organizing, establishing new national holidays, and of course, sport -- has been absolutely key to his legitimation strategy," she explained, adding such tactics date back to the Soviet period, where sport was used "very intensively as a tool of building loyalty of the people to the regime."
          "Even the fact that the Kremlin, Russia, has gone to such lengths, in using doping, in order to win more medals, in a way shows how participating in competitions and winning, winning was key to Putin's Popular Mobilization strategy," Tolz added.
          In 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) unanimously agreed to ban Russia from major international sporting competitions -- notably the Olympics and the World Cup -- for four years over doping non-compliance.
          The ban was later