Russia is pushing back against an International Olympic Committee proposal that would allow Russian athletes to compete in the 2024 Summer Games in Paris only if they’re not affiliated with their country and have not supported its war against Ukraine.
At the same time, support is growing for a boycott of the upcoming Olympics threatened by Ukrainian officials if athletes from Russia and neighboring Belarus are able to participate under any circumstances.
The divide continues to widen over last week’s statement by the IOC reversing a previous call for barring Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competition after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago.
Now the IOC is saying Russia and Belarus may be able to compete again as neutral athletes, without flags, anthems, colors or other signifiers of their countries, as long as they haven’t actively supported the war.
But the head of Russia’s Olympic Committee, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, said Russian athletes should not be treated differently, according to a story in the English-language Moscow Times from Agence France-Presse that cited Russian news agencies.
“Russians must participate exactly on the same conditions as all other athletes. Any additional conditions or criteria are unwelcome, especially any that have political overtones, which are completely unacceptable for the Olympic movement,” he said.
While Pozdnyakov also said his organization welcomed efforts by the IOC to allow Russian athletes to compete, he added, “But as for additional conditions, we strongly disagree. The Olympic Charter states that all athletes must participate on an equal footing.”
Other Russians were even more direct.
Olympic biathlete silver medalist Vladimir Drachev, a former Russian lawmaker, told the Russian news agency TASS that he “categorically” opposes the conditions set out by the IOC that require Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes.
“This is a humiliation of the country, it is impossible to perform in a neutral status, without a flag and an anthem; they will surely force them to sign a declaration, according to which athletes will have to abandon their mother, father and the country,” he said according to a translation that appeared in The Sports Examiner.
“If athletes want to compete in a neutral status, then you need to live in a neutral country,” Drachev said. “Naturally, such decisions can split the sports community, everything is being done for this. Theoretically, it is possible that some athletes will agree to this, the weak can always be found, even among the ranks of athletes.”
Officials in Poland and Estonia are backing Ukraine’s position. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned in a recent address to his country that it’s “obvious that any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood.”
And Ukraine’s national Olympic committee is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss boycotting the Paris Games if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to return to international competition before the war ends in Ukraine, insidethegames.com reported.
Poland’s minister of sport and tourism, Kamil Bortniczuk, told reporters last Friday that Poland is working with Britain to put together an international coalition opposed to Russian and Belarusian participation in the 2024 Olympics, Polskie Radio reported.
Bortniczuk said that if the IOC goes forward with providing a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete, Poland and other countries may issue what he called an ultimatum.
“This will depend on whether it will be possible to create an effective coalition of countries without whom the Olympic Games couldn’t go ahead,” he said.
Poland’s Olympic committee tweeted its president, Andrzej Kraśnicki, believes that “until the end of the barbaric war in Ukraine, no Russian and Belarusian athlete should take part in any international competitions — including the Olympic Games,” according to a translation.
Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas tweeted she is disappointed in the IOC’s efforts.
Kallas said what the IOC is doing is “Politically and morally wrong — time to strengthen isolation, not give in to Russia. Sport is a tool in Russia’s propaganda machine, ignoring that means siding with aggression.”
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has not taken a position publicly since the IOC detailed its new stance last week. However, a letter to athletes and sports organizations from new USOPC Chairman Gene Sykes obtained by the Deseret News raises concerns.
Any process that allows Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete “will require careful management and will demand extra efforts to earn the confidence and trust of our community,” Sykes wrote.
He noted that in the U.S., there’s “a real desire to compete against all the world’s best athletes — but only if that can happen in a way that ensures safe and fair play. And there is very real concern, even skepticism, about whether that condition can be met.”
Los Angeles is hosting the Summer Games that follow Paris, in 2028, and Salt Lake City is bidding for either the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games. The IOC recently postponed the Winter Games decision, likely until next year.
Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games has said the IOC’s statement on Russian and Belarusian athlete participation is not expected to impact the bid.