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 games in Paris as neutrals, outside of team events and as long as they did not actively support the war against 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 Olympics in Paris. The IOC Executive Board “decided that Individual Neutral Athletes (AINs) who have qualified through the existing qualification systems of the International Federations (IFs) on the track will be declared eligible to compete at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games” . But only, it added, if they meet strict eligibility conditions.

It includes the exclusion of “teams of athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport”. It will also miss “athletes who actively support the war” as well as “athletes who are under contract with the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies”.

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

Russia condemned the conditions for its athletes as “discriminatory” but said athletes who met the criteria would go to Paris. “The conditions are discriminatory, they are against the principles of sport,” Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin said.

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

But 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 as representatives of international sports federations and national Olympic committees called for Russian and Belarusian athletes to be admitted under a neutral flag to the July 26 to August 11, 2024 Games in Paris “as soon as possible”.

At 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” about the call by these 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 on the issue of Olympic fairness and justice”.

“As aptly stated by President Volodymyr Zelensky: ‘It is clear that 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 is sport under a neutral flag.”

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) remains suspended, with the IOC imposing a ban in October over its violation of the territorial integrity of membership of Ukraine by recognizing illegally annexed territories.

The ROC has recognized organizations from four Ukrainian territories annexed since Russia’s invasion began in 2022.

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

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