Will Russian athletes compete at next year’s Paris Olympics? Here’s what the IOC is considering
Sanctions over war in Ukraine still in place but ‘pathway’ possible
The Olympic Council of Asia has offered to give Russian and Belarusian athletes access to events in Asia, the IOC Executive Board said Wednesday in a lengthly statement about the status of the athletes as well as the sanctions.
Qualifying events for the Paris Games could be included, although no specifics were given.
The IOC announced shortly after the war began last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials should not be allowed to participate in international competitions, but is clearly trying to move away from that position.
“No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport,” the IOC’s latest statement said, “A pathway for athletes’ participation in competition under strict conditions should therefore be further explored.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba responded on Twitter.
“IOC has been disregarding Russian war crimes, claiming that ‘No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport’, while Ukrainian athletes continue to be killed by Russia because of their passports,” he tweeted Wednesday.
Kuleba added, “I urge all sports figures to make their stance known.”
The “strict conditions” for participation being considered would include requiring that the athletes had “not acted against the peace mission of the IOC by actively supporting the war in Ukraine.”
Athletes from Russia and neighboring Belarus would also have to be “neutral” participants rather than representatives of their countries, something the IOC said is already happening in some professional competitions.
Anti-doping regulations, which Russia has run afoul of in recent Games, would also have to be followed. Athletes that fail to adhere to all of the conditions could be immediately removed from competition and face further action.
The IOC cited a letter from United Nations officials warning that banning Russians and Belarusians from international competitions based on their nationality ”raises serious issues of non-discrimination.”
Competition bans affected a team of young Russian biathletes in Utah last March for the 2022 Youth and Junior World Championships at Solider Hollow, and Russian and Belarusian paralympians were expelled from the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, China.
Still, the statement said the IOC’s sanctions have been unanimously reaffirmed by a number of sports entities contacted about the ongoing issue of Russian and Belarusian athlete participation.
Those sanctions ban flags, anthems, colors or anything else identified with Russia or Belarus from competition sites, and Russian and Belarusian government officials from attending international sports events, which can’t be held in those countries.
The IOC said there was also agreement to “strengthen the full and unwavering commitment to solidarity with the Ukrainian athletes and the Ukrainian Olympic community” to help ensure strong teams for the upcoming Olympics.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been critical of the IOC’s efforts to find a way for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to international competitions, the subject of an Olympic Summit in December that included U.S. and Russian Olympic committee leaders.
“One cannot try to be neutral when the foundations of peaceful life are being destroyed and universal human values are being ignored,” Zelenskyy said in a statement issued by his office last month after a phone call with IOC President Thomas Bach about the summit.
According to his statement, “the silence of athletes, coaches and officials condones aggression, and Russia uses sports for propaganda purposes. The only fair response to such actions is complete isolation,” particularly from international sporting events.
Ukrainian Olympic hopefuls have been training at facilities around the world, including in Utah. Last summer, curling and freestyle skiing athletes were welcomed to Utah, which is bidding to host either the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games.
Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, said the IOC’s efforts to bring Russian and Belarusian athletes back into international competition is not expected to impact the bid.
Salt Lake City faces competition from Sapporo, Japan, and Vancouver, Canada, for the 2030 Winter Games. The IOC recently postponed a decision on a host likely until sometime next year, and may award both the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games at the same time.