IOC details advice to let Russia, Belarus athletes return
SOME RUSSIAN athletes can soon return to international sports, although their status for next year’s Paris Olympics is still up in the air.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended yesterday that individual athletes from Russia and Belarus should be allowed to return to competition under a neutral status as long as they have no military links. But the IOC, facing increased pressure to ban Russia and Belarus from the Paris Olympics because of the war in Ukraine, held off on deciding whether they can compete at next year’s Summer Games.
That decision will be taken “at the appropriate time,” IOC President Thomas Bach said. When it comes to other events, including Olympic qualifiers, it will be up to each individual sport’s governing body to make the final decision on whether Russian and Belarusian athletes can take part.
While the IOC said Russia and Belarus should remain barred from team sports such as soccer and basketball, it still defied repeated calls by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to exclude all Russian athletes while his country is being occupied and attacked. But athletes from Russia and its military ally Belarus who have actively supported the war in Ukraine, or are “contracted to the military or national security agencies”, should not be cleared to compete as neutral individuals, Bach said.
The Russian Defence Ministry has said more than 20 of the country’s medallists at the Tokyo Olympics staged in 2021 held military ranks. Of the 71 medals won in Japan, 45 were by athletes affiliated with the Central Sports Club of the Army.
In team sports, Russia and Belarus “cannot be considered” for a return, Bach said at a news conference after what he said was a unanimous agreement among the 15-member executive board.
Team events in other sports, such as relays or mixed doubles or team all-around in gymnastics, should also be off-limits, the IOC said in a document explaining its guidance.
“There is definitely discrimination in this,” veteran Russian gymnastics coach Valentina Rodionenko said in comments reported by RIA Novosti, adding that with “conditions like these, they understand very well that Russia itself will not agree to them.”
In the guidance document, the IOC said it would like Russians and Belarusians to be known as Individual Neutral Athletes with the French acronym AIN.
They should wear uniforms that are either entirely white or a single colour, and can’t have a team logo. Athletes should be barred from displaying their national flags on social media or making statements “that may be prejudicial to the interests of the competition, its integrity or the participant’s neutrality,” the five-page document stated.
The IOC’s recommendations “do not concern” the Paris Games that opens in 16 months’ time.