Russian Esports Federation refuses to use neutral flag for IESF events

UPDATE 15/05/24: The IESF has since provided a statement to Esports Insider following the publication of the article which has been added to the piece.

Russian Esports Federation
(ESI Illustration) Image credit: RESF

The Russian Esports Federation (RESF) has issued a statement refusing the International Esports Federation’s (IESF) decision to make its representatives compete under a neutral flag for the upcoming IESF World Championships. 

In a translated release by the Russian Esports Federation, the federation states that it wants to remain in the competition, “but will not abandon its flag and anthem”. This puts the two federations at a stalemate, due to the IESF’s decision to not allow Russian symbols at its events.

ESI London 2024

The statement comes shortly after sources from within IESF provided independent esports journalist Richard Lewis with a letter that details the ruling for the upcoming IESF World Esports Championships. In the letter, the IESF representatives ask the RESF to have its players wear neutral colours during the event and compete under a neutral flag. 

This is a culmination of a longer series of changes, appeals, proposals and other moves between the two federations that started in 2022. Since April 2022, the IESF banned Russian athletes from participating in any of its events, but these restrictions were lifted last year. In a statement published in January 2024 on IESF’s website, the federation shared that it has ‘suspended the RESF’s good standing’, but will allow its players to compete under neutral conditions and to be represented by the IESF flag. 

The IESF noted that this was a result of a secret vote prompted by the Ukrainian Esports Federation’s appeal because the RESF established offices in territories internationally recognised as Ukrainian. 

The RESF recognises this in its statement but said that the Russian side never received the original text of the decision in question despite claiming to have asked for it. Instead, the RESF noted in the statement that it received four different interpretations of the document. 

Three months later, the IESF Secretariat offered a participation agreement to the RESF, but the federation claims that “non-standard and uncoordinated provisions were found in it.” This included a clause that asked for all Russian representatives to compete under a neutral flag. 

In the end, the RESF said that it was presented with two options: either sign a waiver to compete with the IESF flag or not participate in the World Championship. Since the RESF did not sign the waiver, it was notified by the federation of its exclusion from the competition. 

After appeals, the IESF Secretariat did not change its stance. The RESF goes on to say that “the Secretariat has no right to dictate such conditions and cancel the participation of the Russian national team.”

The IESF has since provided a comment to Esports Insider regarding the Russian Esports Federation’s statement.

An excerpt of the comment reads: “The IESF Membership Committee conducted a detailed investigation following the allegations made by the Ukraine Esports Federation (UESF). It was found that RESF’s actions, specifically the establishment of branch offices or acceptance of associations or agencies in territories internationally recognised as belonging to Ukraine and sanctioning competitions in these regions, constituted a breach of Article E.31 of the IESF Statutes. This article emphasises the respect for the sovereignty of other members and prohibits interference in the internal affairs of another national federation without explicit request.

“Consequently, on January 9th, 2024, the Membership Committee recommended suspending RESF’s status of ‘Good Standing’ within IESF. The IESF Board, on January 17th, 2024, upheld the Membership Committee’s recommendation and concluded that the RESF does not currently meet the ‘Good Standing’ criterion.

“However, recognising the importance of inclusivity in Esports, the Board has made a provision allowing Russian players to compete under a neutral flag.

“Nonetheless, we firmly believe in the principles of fairness and respect for national sovereignty, as enshrined in our Statutes. RESF has the right to appeal this decision at the General Meeting, and we encourage taking this route if there are further grievances.”

Ivan Šimić
Ivan comes from Croatia, loves weird simulator games, and is terrible at playing anything else. Spent 5 years writing about tech and esports in Croatia, and is now doing it here.