The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made clear it wants Russians and Belarusians to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympics as neutral athletes, despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s call for them to be completely excluded.
Most important points:
- The IOC said competitors from Russia and its ally Belarus can compete as neutral athletes
- A statement attributed to Ukrainian athletes accused the IOC of being a “servant of Russia”.
- The statement said “athletes are an integral part of Russian foreign policy … and propaganda”
Citing a “unifying mission” in wartime, the IOC said that “no athlete should be prevented from participating just because of their passport”.
“A path for athlete participation in competitions under strict conditions should therefore be further explored,” the IOC said in a statement released after a board meeting.
Russians and Belarusians would be classed as “neutral athletes” and “in no way represent their state or any other organization in their country,” according to the IOC.
The IOC cited the example of Yugoslavs participating in the 1992 Barcelona Games as “independent athletes”, while the country was under United Nations sanctions during a civil war.
Russia was not directly condemned in the statement, although athletes who have “actively supported the war in Ukraine” will be barred from the Paris Olympics that start in 18 months, the IOC said.
Progressive start-up The Global Athlete released a statement with Ukrainian athletes, saying Olympic leaders’ willingness to engage Russia and military ally Belarus was a tacit endorsement of the invasion.
“The IOC is strengthening the Russian propaganda machine, strengthening Putin’s regime and undermining peace,” the statement read, accusing the commission of being a “servant of Russia”.
“Russian officials have consistently and publicly promoted their athletes’ involvement in the war.
“The president of the Russian National Olympic Committee, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, blatantly declared that ‘the athletes of the country should be honored to fight in the war of Ukraine.’
“This mindset has been around for a long time, as Russia has proven time and time again that athletes are an integral part of its foreign policy. Athletes have been consistently elevated to high military positions and used in state propaganda.”
Any attempt to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in the Olympics is likely to meet with dismay and anger from the Ukrainian government.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke on the matter on Tuesday after speaking with French President Emmanuel Macron, who was campaigning for the Paris Olympics when it was a candidate in 2017.
“In particular, I stressed that athletes from Russia should have no place in the Paris Olympics,” Zelenskyy wrote on his Telegram account of his talks with Macron.
The IOC board met last week to formalize a position after rounds of conference calls with global groups of Olympic officials, sports governing bodies, IOC members and athlete representatives.
Despite some restraint in those calls, including from the Ukrainian Olympic body, the IOC claimed the stated goals were supported by a “vast majority” of those who took part.
The Olympic statement suggested that responsibility would lie with the governing bodies of individual sports to ensure that any Russian athlete supporting the war is removed from competition, suspended and reported to the IOC for further action.
The IOC also called on sports organizations to strengthen “full and unwavering commitment to solidarity with the Ukrainian athletes” in preparation for the Paris Olympics.
As a testament to their efforts to return to the global sports scene, Russian officials also met with European football’s governing body, UEFA, this week about a re-integration into the game.