The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday issued recommendations for the gradual return to international competitions for Russian and Belarusian athletes, with president Thomas Bach saying their participation “works” despite the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The IOC Executive Board’s recommendations relate only for the return of those athletes in international competitions but not the 2024 Olympics where a separate decision will be taken at a later date, Bach said.
The IOC had sanctioned Russia and Belarus after the February 2022 invasion but it is now eager to see athletes come back across all sports and have a chance to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
It has set out a pathway for these competitors to earn Olympic slots through Asian qualifying and left it up to international federations to decide on organisation, but has faced headwinds, with Ukraine threatening to boycott the Paris Games should they compete there, even as neutrals.
“Participation of athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports in international competitions works,” Bach said in his address at the start of the IOC’s executive board meeting at its headquarters in Lausanne.
“We see this almost every day in a number of sports, most prominently in tennis but also in cycling, in some table tennis competitions.”
“We see it ice hockey, handball we see it in football and in other leagues in the United States but also in Europe and we also see it in other continents,” he said. “In none of these competition security incidents have been happening.”
Russians and Belarusians have been competing as neutrals in some sports but their presence at some events, such as tennis tournaments, has triggered angry reactions from some other athletes.
Bach said the recommendations for events organisers and sports federations to follow include Russian and Belarusian athletes can only compete as neutrals, with no flag or anthem.
They cannot take part in team events and have to have a proven drugs testing record.
Athletes who support the war or are contracted to their countries’ military or national security agency cannot take part.
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These recommendations, however, do not include the Paris 2024 Olympics and the potential participation of Russia and Belarus, Bach said.
“The IOC will take this decision at the appropriate time at its full discretion, without being bound by results of previous Olympic qualifiers,” Bach told a news conference after the meeting. He did not say when the IOC would take that decision.
“The IOC expressly reserves the right to decide on their participation (at the Paris Olympics) at the appropriate time.”
A dozen countries boycotted this month’s women’s world boxing championships in protest at their presence at the event while earlier on Tuesday more than 300 fencers wrote to Bach to ask the IOC to reconsider allowing them back, calling it a “catastrophic error” should Russia and Belarus return.
Germany’s elite athletes’ grouping Athleten Deutschland on Tuesday also called on the IOC to ban them completely for the duration of the war.
“As long as the war of aggression continues, we consider a complete exclusion of Russia and Belarus to be imperative,” it said in a statement. “The exclusion must apply to federations, officials, and unfortunately also to athletes.
“We call on the IOC to uphold the recommendations on Russia’s exclusion from world sport and to vehemently demand their implementation by the world federations.”
Bach said politics could not be a part of sports competitions and athletes should not be punished for their passports.
“We will not be able to come up with a solution which pleases everyone. With this we may have to live.”
— Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Sharon Singleton and Christian Radnedge