The IOC updated its recommendations to international sports federations regarding Russian and Belarusian athletes, advising that they can return to competitions outside of the Olympics as neutral athletes in individual events and only if they do not actively support the war in Ukraine. Now, it’s up to those federations to decide if and how they will reinstate the athletes as 2024 Olympic qualifying heats up.
The IOC has not made a decision on the participation of Russian or Belarusian athletes for the Paris Games and will do so “at the appropriate time,” IOC President Thomas Bach said Tuesday.
Most international sports federations for Olympic sports banned Russian and Belarusian athletes last year following IOC recommendations to do so after the invasion of Ukraine.
Bach was asked Tuesday what has changed in the last 13 months that led to the IOC updating its recommendations.
He reiterated previous comments that, after the invasion and before the initial February 2022 recommendations, some governments refused to issue visas for Russians and Belarusians to compete, and other governments threatened withdrawing funding from athletes who competed against Russians and Belarusians. He also said the safety of Russians and Belarusians at competitions was at risk at the time.
Bach said that Russians and Belarusians have been competing in sports including tennis, the NHL and soccer (while not representing their countries) and that “it’s already working.”
“The question, which has been discussed in many of these consultations, is why should what is possible in all these sports not be possible in swimming, table tennis, wrestling or any other sport?” Bach said.
Bach then read a section of remarks that a United Nations cultural rights appointee made last week.
“We have to start from agreeing that these states [Russia and Belarus] are going to be excluded,” Bach read, in part. “The issue is what happens with individuals. … The blanket prohibition of Russian and Belarusian athletes and artists cannot continue. It is a flagrant violation of human rights. The idea is not that we are going to recognize human rights to people who are like us and with whom we agree on their actions and on their behavior. The idea is that anyone has the right not to be discriminated on the basis of their passport.”
The IOC’s Tuesday recommendations included not allowing “teams of athletes” from Russia and Belarus to return.
If Russia continues to be excluded from team sports and team events, it could further impact 2024 Olympic qualification.
The international basketball federation (FIBA) recently set an April 28 deadline to decide whether to allow Russia to compete in an Olympic men’s qualifying tournament. For women’s basketball, the draw for a European Olympic qualifying tournament has already been made without Russia.
In gymnastics, the ban has already extended long enough that, under current rules, Russian gymnasts cannot qualify for men’s and women’s team events at the Paris Games, but can still qualify for individual events if the ban is lifted.
Gymnasts from Russia swept the men’s and women’s team titles in Tokyo, where Russians in all sports competed for the Russian Olympic Committee rather than for Russia due to punishment for the nation’s doping violations. There were no Russian flags or anthems, conditions that the IOC also recommends for any return from the current ban for the war in Ukraine.
Seb Coe, the president of World Athletics, said last week that Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned from track and field for the “foreseeable future.”
World Aquatics, the international governing body for swimming, diving and water polo, said after the IOC’s updated recommendations that it will continue to “consider developments impacting the situation” of Russian and Belarusian athletes and that “further updates will be provided when appropriate.”
The IOC’s sanctions against Russia and Belarus and their governments remain in place, including disallowing international competitions to be held in those countries.
On Monday, Ukraine’s sports minister said in a statement that Ukraine “strongly urges” that Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned.
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