Which music is being used instead of the Russian National Anthem at the 2021 Olympics and Paralympics?

You might have noticed the absence of the Russian National Anthem at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. In its place, a piece of music familiar to classical and pop lovers alike...

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Because of the restrictions made on the Russian Olympic Committee at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the Russian National Anthem is not allowed to be played. Instead, we hear the sounds of classical music when a Russian athlete wins a gold medal. But what exactly is that piece of music?

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It’s Tchaikovsky‘s Piano Concerto No. 1. Tchaikovsky, one of Russia’s most famous composers, wrote the work at the end of 1874 – but it was revised several times following criticism from the work’s initial dedicatee, Nikolai Rubinstein. It was the first of three piano concertos written by Tchaikovsky.

Why is the Russian National Anthem not being played at the Olympics and Paralympics?

Russia has been officially ‘banned’ from the 2021 Olympics and Paralympics by the World Anti-Doping Agency. The decision was first announced in 2019, with an initial ban from the following two Olympic Games or any world championship sporting event for the following two years.

As a result, Russian athletes are now competing under the banner of the ‘Russian Olympic Committee’. Part of the rules on banning a country from the Olympics and Paralympics means the country’s national anthem can no longer be played. As a result, Russia chose a new piece of music to reflect their nation’s athletes in victory.

The country has actually been banned from all international sporting competitions between 2019-22, so you might be hearing Tchaikovsky‘s First Piano Concerto more than you thought. There’ll be no Russian National Anthem played at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing or the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Find out more about the history of the Russian National Anthem here.

But where might you recognise that tune from?

Although it’s beloved by classical music lovers, Tchaikovsky‘s Piano Concerto also has a place in the hearts of pop culture addicts, who may remember it as the opening of Hooked on Classics

Hooked on Classics was a pop phenomenon in 1981, when the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded an album which blended snippets of classical music with disco drum beats. Find out more about the history of Hooked on Classics here.

The tune segues to an iconic work by another Russian composer, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: The Flight of the Bumblebee. 

But Tchaikovsky wasn’t Russia’s first choice for a replacement national anthem…

Russia initially requested the use of the Russian folk song ‘Katyusha’ as the replacement for its national anthem, but it was rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. This was because the rules stated that ‘the Russian national anthem (or any anthem linked to Russia) shall not be officially played or sung at any official event venue or other area controlled by the signatory or its appointed event organiser (including, without limitation, at Medal Ceremonies and Opening/Closing Ceremonies).’ Supposedly ‘Katyusha’ came under the category of an ‘anthem linked to Russia.’

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‘Katyusha’ is a patriotic song in Russia and became popular during the Second World War, as it told the story of the Soviet soldiers leaving their families. The name of the song also inspired the name of a series of rocket launchers used by the Red Army in the Second World War.