IOC threatens ‘swift action’ for discriminating against Israeli athletes. Russia says that’s not fair
Olympic committee warning comes as Gaza war intensifies
Tensions between Russia and the International Olympic Committee are ratcheting up again over a new warning from Olympic officials about discriminating against Israeli athletes as the war in Gaza intensifies.
Russia, already sanctioned by the IOC for invading Ukraine and awaiting a decision on whether its athletes will be allowed to participate as “neutral” competitors in the 2024 Summer Games in Paris, declared there’s a double standard.
The latest controversy in the ongoing back-and-forth was sparked by an IOC statement issued earlier this week to the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur, or dpa, about expectations for how Israeli athletes should be treated.
“The IOC is committed to the concept of individual responsibility and athletes cannot be held responsible for the actions of their governments,” an IOC spokesperson told the German news agency.
“If discriminatory behavior by an athlete or an official occurs, the IOC works with the National Olympic Committee and the International Federation concerned to ensure that swift action is taken, as during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.”
At the 2020 Summer Games that were held a year late due to COVID-19, an Algerian judo competitor and his coach were banned for 10 years by the sport’s governing body after he withdrew to avoid the possibility of facing an Israeli athlete on the mat.
A Palestinian wrestler training for the Olympics in Germany, Rabbia Khalil, told the German news agency he would not compete against Israeli athletes, “not for religious reasons because he is a Jew but because there has always been war between both peoples.
“I expect more Arab or pro-Palestine athletes to boycott competitions if they have to compete against athletes from Israel,” Khalil said. “Athletes will be more and more ready to accept the consequences.”
In July, IOC President Thomas Bach intervened on behalf of a Ukrainian fencer who’d been disqualified for not shaking the hand of her Russian opponent, making a “unique exception” to grant her a spot at the Paris Olympics.
Russian officials fired back at the IOC’s latest statement, according to that country’s TASS news agency.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko told TASS the IOC had flip-flopped on holding athletes responsible for the actions of their governments.
“Unfortunately, we are talking only about athletes from Israel, but not from Russia. Without hesitation The IOC supports athletes only from those countries that are under the wing of the United States,” Chernyshenko said.
He said the IOC fears “the Olympic movement would collapse completely and irrevocably on the eve of the Olympic Games” in Paris. “There is nothing to be afraid of, the system is already rotten, it’s time to accept this as a fact.”
A spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, complained of “double standards” Thursday.
“We demand from the IOC a clear and unequivocal rejection of the practice of double standards, the strict application of equal treatment of all athletes without exceptions and without discrimination on any grounds whatsoever,” Zakharova said.
The IOC responded to the criticism in another statement to the German press agency.
“The measures and recommendations taken by the IOC are the consequence of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army during the 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. This is a violation of the Olympic Truce, which was in force at the time, and a violation of the Olympic Charter,” the IOC statement said.
It also said the IOC is continuing “to monitor the situation and its impact on Israeli and Palestinian athletes. In accordance with the Olympic Charter, the Israeli and Palestinian Olympic Committees have lived in peaceful coexistence for several decades.”
Soon after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the IOC barred athletes from Russia and its ally, Belarus, from international competition, including from a biathlon youth and junior world championship in Utah.
But within a year, the IOC had reversed its stand, permitting Russians and Belarusians to compete again internationally without flags, anthems or any other symbol of their countries, as long as they haven’t actively supported the ongoing war.
The change drew criticism from Ukraine and its allies as well as from Russia and Belarus. and fueled talk of an Olympic boycott. The IOC has defended its new position and been in no hurry to decide if the “neutral athletes” can also compete in next year’s Paris Olympics.