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Russian, Belarusian athletes can compete in Paris Olympics, IOC says, but only under ‘strict’ conditions

Decision permitting ‘neutral’ participation called ‘shameful’ by Ukrainian foreign minister and ‘discriminatory’ by Russian official

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The Olympic rings in front of the Paris City Hall, in Paris on April 30, 2023.

The Olympic rings in front of the Paris City Hall, in Paris on April 30, 2023. Some Russian athletes will be allowed to compete at the 2024 Paris Olympics, the IOC said Friday, Dec. 8, 2023, in a decision that removed the option of a blanket ban over the invasion of Ukraine.

Aurelien Morissard, Associated Press

Russians and Belarusians will be able to compete as neutral athletes in the 2024 Summer Games in Paris, the International Olympic Committee announced Friday.

The long-awaited decision comes nearly a year after the IOC reversed a ban on Russian and Belarusian athlete participation in international sporting events issued shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 with support from its ally, Belarus.

The same “strict eligibility conditions” announced in January and adopted by some but not all international sports federations and event organizers are now in place for the upcoming Olympics. They include:

  • Qualified Russian and Belarusian athletes will compete as individual, neutral athletes. No teams from those countries will be considered.
  • Athletes or support personnel “who actively support the war,” or who are contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies, will not be eligible to participate.
  • No flag, anthem, colors or any other identifications of Russia or Belarus will be allowed to be displayed at any official venue or function at the Olympics.
  • No Russian or Belarusian government or state officials will be invited to or accredited to attend.

A set of “principles of participation” for neutral athletes and their support personnel spells out they must also refrain from associating with the “Z” symbol or other pro-Russian military slogans or branding on social media, in interviews or at official events.

Those restrictions are in place before, during and after the Games and apply to any national events related to their Olympic participation. During the Games, they will not be allowed to make statements on behalf of anyone other than themselves.

All Paris 2024 competitors, including those there as neutral athletes, will have to sign the “Conditions of Participation” form that has been updated with a commitment to “the peace mission of the Olympic Movement.”

Neither the Russian nor the Belarusian national Olympic committees were on the guest list when invitations to attend the 2024 Games went out in July. In October, the IOC suspended the Russian committee for incorporating sports groups from occupied regions of Ukraine.

In a news release detailing Friday’s decision, the IOC said “only a very limited number of athletes will qualify” for the upcoming Olympics as “individual neutral athletes” and must be invited by the IOC as well as their respective international sports federations.

Of the 4,600 athletes worldwide who have already qualified to compete in Paris next year, the IOC said only 11 are Russian and three are Belarusian. This compares to more than 60 Ukrainian athletes so far who are headed to the 2024 Games.

Paris marks the fifth straight Olympics where Russian athletes faced calls to be banned, starting with doping issues that tainted the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, The Associated Press reported.

Russian athletes have competed under various “neutral” banners, including as ROC, which stands for the Russian Olympic Committee, at the 2020 Summer Games held in Tokyo a year late due to COVID-19, and at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

The IOC has been criticized by both Russian and Ukrainian officials as well as their allies for considering permitting Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in Paris, spurring talk of possible boycotts or alternative sporting events.

Friday, Reuters news services reported Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba condemned a “shameful” IOC decision while Russia’s Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin said the conditions for Russian athletes’ participation at the Olympics were “discriminatory.”

Kuleba posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the “IOC essentially gave Russia the green light to weaponize the Olympics,” urging “all partners to strongly condemn this shameful decision, which undermines Olympic principles.”

Matytsin also labeled the IOC’s approach as “unacceptable,” according to the TASS news agency. “Participation in the Olympics is an athlete’s dream. But the conditions are discriminatory and go against the principles of sports.”

Sweden’s social affairs minister, Jakob Forssmed, posted Friday on X that the IOC had made an “outrageous and very regrettable decision,” according to a translation. “Neutral flag is an illusion and this helps to normalize the Russian war of aggression!”