The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made clear it wants Russians and Belarusians to compete at the 2024 Paris Olympics as neutral athletes, in defiance of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s call to exclude them entirely.
- The IOC said competitors from Russia and its ally Belarus could 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” during a time of war, the IOC said “no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport”.
“A pathway for athletes’ participation in competition under strict conditions should therefore be further explored,” the IOC said in a statement published after an executive board meeting.
Russians and Belarusians would be classed as “neutral athletes” and “in no way represent their state or any other organisation in their country”, the IOC said.
The IOC cited the example of Yugoslavians competing at the 1992 Barcelona Games as “independent athletes” while the nation was under United Nations sanctions during a civil war.
Russia was not directly condemned in the statement, though athletes who have been “actively supporting the war in Ukraine” face being excluded from the Paris Olympics that open in 18 months’ time, the IOC said.
Progressive start-up The Global Athlete released a statement with Ukrainian athletes, saying the willingness of Olympic leaders to involve Russia and military ally Belarus was a tacit endorsement of the invasion.
“The IOC is strengthening Russia’s propaganda machine, empowering the Putin regime and undermining peace,” the statement read, accusing the committee of being a “servant of Russia”.
“Russian officials have consistently and publicly promoted their athletes’ involvement in the war.
“Russian National Olympic Committee president Stanislav Pozdnyakov blatantly stated that ‘the country’s athletes should be honoured to fight in the war of Ukraine’.
“This mindset has been longstanding as Russia has proven time and time again that athletes are an integral part of its foreign policy. Athletes have consistently been elevated to high-ranking military positions and used in state propaganda.”
Any attempt to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in the Olympics is likely to be met with dismay and anger from Ukraine’s government.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the issue on Tuesday after speaking with French president Emmanuel Macron, who helped campaign for the Paris Olympics when it was a bid candidate in 2017.
“I particularly emphasised that athletes from Russia should have no place at the Olympic Games in Paris,” Mr Zelenskyy wrote on his Telegram account of his talks with Mr Macron.
The IOC board met to formalise a position after rounds of conference calls last week with global groups of Olympic officials, sports governing bodies, IOC members and athlete representatives.
Despite some pushback in those calls, including from the Ukrainian Olympic body, the IOC claimed its stated aims were backed by a “vast majority” of those who took part.
The Olympic statement suggested responsibility would lie with individual sports’ governing bodies 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 bodies to strengthen “full and unwavering commitment to solidarity with the Ukrainian athletes” preparing for the Paris Olympics.
As evidence of their attempts to return to the global sporting scene, Russian officials also met this week with European football’s governing body, UEFA, about a reintegration into the game.