IOC Clears Russians To Compete In Paris As Neutrals

Olympic chiefs on Friday gave the green light to the  participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes at next year’s Paris Games as neutrals, outside of team events and as long as they did not actively support the war on Ukraine. The International Olympic Committee added that there were currently only eight athletes from Russia and three from Belarus who had qualified as neutral athletes.

In comparison, more than 60 Ukrainian athletes have qualified for next year’s Paris Olympics. The IOC’s executive board “decided that Individual Neutral Athletes (AINs) who have qualified through the existing qualification systems of the International Federations (IFs) on the field of play will be declared eligible to compete at the Olympic Games Paris 2024”. But only, it added, if they meet strict eligibility conditions.

That includes the exclusion of “teams of athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport”. Also missing out will be “athletes who actively support the war” as well as “athletes who are contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies”.

Additionally, “no flag, anthem, colours or any other identifications whatsoever of Russia or Belarus will be displayed at the Olympic Games Paris 2024 in any official venue or any official function”. “No Russian or Belarusian government or state officials will be invited to or accredited for the Olympic Games Paris 2024.”

Russia denounced the conditions placed on its athletes as “discriminatory”, but said athletes who meet the criteria would go to Paris. “The conditions are discriminatory, they are going against the principles of sport,” said Russian sports minister Oleg Matytsin.

“They are damaging the Olympic Games themselves, and not Russian sport. The approach is unacceptable.” Athletes from Russia and Belarus have faced sanctions from a multitude of sports since Moscow launched its assault on Ukraine in February 2022.

However, over the past year a number of Olympic sports have eased restrictions, allowing athletes from both countries to return to competition under certain conditions.

Federation pressure
In March, the IOC lifted an outright ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes, allowing them to compete as neutral athletes provided they did not support the Ukraine conflict and had no ties to the military.

The issue was raised again on Tuesday when representatives of international sports federations and national Olympic committees called for Russian and Belarusian athletes to be admitted under a neutral flag for the July 26 to August 11 2024 Games in Paris “as soon as possible”.

During the Olympic summit in Lausanne, athlete representatives also asked for “clarity” on the issue. In an interview with AFP on Thursday, Ukraine’s acting sports minister said his government was “very concerned” by that call from those IFs and NOCs.

Matviy Bidnyi said Kyiv was concerned that the move gave the impression that the IOC “does not want to demonstrate the necessary leadership in the matter of Olympic fairness and justice”.

“As aptly stated by President Volodymyr Zelensky: ‘Obviously, any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood’,” Bidnyi told AFP.

“We count on a responsible decision and leadership of the IOC, which will not allow Russia to use sport for military propaganda.

“Even if it’s sport under a neutral flag.”

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) remains suspended, the IOC having instigated a ban in October for its violation of the territorial integrity of the membership of Ukraine by recognising illegally annexed territories.

ROC has recognised organisations from four Ukrainian territories annexed since Russia’s invasion began in 2022.

Russia’s Olympic body last month launched an appeal against its suspension by the IOC at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

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