The escalating controversy over a proposal to allow Russian athletes to compete in the 2024 Summer Games in Paris despite the ongoing war in Ukraine may spill over onto future Olympics, especially if some nations decide to boycott.

That could affect the next Summer Games, in Los Angeles in 2028, as well as Salt Lake City’s chances of hosting another Winter Games, said University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank, the author of two books about the Olympics.

“This absolutely has clear knock-on effects. I mean, this is going to affect much more than even the upcoming Games in Paris,” Burbank said of the International Olympic Committee’s statement last week about the possible participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.

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There are parallels with the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, over the then-Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, he said. Four years later, the Soviet Union and its supporters did the same, staying away from the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

“That’s exactly the kind of thing that you would anticipate continuing to happen,” Burbank said, given there appears to be no way to resolve the controversy without angering either Russia or Ukraine, and possibly their allies.

Reaction has ‘gotten nasty’

The IOC insists there’s support for those athletes to return to competition under “strict conditions” that would include not identifying their home countries and not having actively backed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But both Russia and Ukraine are lashing out against the proposal, a reversal of the IOC’s call shortly after the start of the war nearly a year ago that the athletes be barred from any international competition.

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Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the conditions “obviously unacceptable,” and said “such unsightly attempts to squeeze our country out of international sports are doomed to failure,” according to a translation of a report by TASS.

Ukrainian leaders have condemned the proposal in harsh terms, with a presidential advisor claiming the IOC would be providing “a platform to promote genocide,” while sports officials in Ukraine are threatening an Olympic boycott.

“It’s been crazy. It’s gotten nasty,” said Mark Conrad, director of the sports program at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business in New York City. ”It’s turning Paris into a headache.”

Will there be a boycott?

Conrad has no doubt that the IOC takes the threat of a boycott of next year’s Olympics seriously.

“The IOC is absolutely fearful and will do what they can to stop boycotts,” he said, because nations choosing not to participate are seen as “delegitimizing” the Olympic brand, a potential hit to revenues from corporate sponsors and broadcasters as well as status.

“That’s what it comes down to. They make the claim, ‘We’re not political. We try to open it up to every athlete,’” Conrad said, adding, “We all know, based on the history of the Olympics, it can be a pretty political circus.”

Backers of Salt Lake City’s Olympic bid were chastised by IOC leaders who felt the U,S. didn’t show enough support for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. The U.S. led a diplomatic boycott pushed by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney to protest China’s human rights record.

Conrad said there’s precedent for a country to be banned from an Olympics “based on its military aggressions or war or certain policies that could be so universally odious,” such as Germany’s exclusion over its role in the two world wars.

IOC pushes back against response to Russians possibly competing in Paris Olympics

With Russia, however, “the IOC clearly doesn’t want to go that route, and are almost hoping that in some ways they can buy time,” he said. “But I don’t think people are thinking this war is going to end by the time the Paris Games start.”

The New York City professor predicted the IOC proposal will go forward, and that any boycott by Ukraine would have only limited support, even though Poland and a few other nations have opposed Russia and Belarus competing in Paris.

“Several countries could join Ukraine, but I don’t see a worldwide boycott,” Conrad said. Plus, he said, the IOC’s ability to maintain the strength of the Olympic brand should never be underestimated.

“They will try to ride it out,” Conrad said, and likely be successful unless there’s a “considerable escalation” in the war in Ukraine. If Ukraine and a few of its allies aren’t there, he said that would be viewed as “collateral damage.”

What are U.S. Olympic officials saying?

Neither the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, nor the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games that’s bidding to host either the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games, have publicly commented on the IOC proposal or a possible boycott.

Fraser Bullock, the bid committee’s president and CEO, has said only that he doesn’t expect the position taken by IOC on Russian and Belarusian athlete participation to have an impact on Salt Lake City’s bid.

In December, IOC leaders postponed choosing a 2030 host until likely sometime next year and left open the possibility other cities could join Salt Lake City; Sapporo, Japan; and Vancouver, Canada; in the race.

USOPC Chairman Gene Sykes said last week in a letter to athletes and sports organizations obtained by the Desert News that “there is very real concern, even skepticism” about whether “safe and fair play” can be ensured if Russian and Belarusian athletes compete.

However, he said U.S. Olympic leaders have “encouraged the IOC to continue exploring a process that would preserve the existing sanctions, ensuring only neutral athletes who are clean are welcome to compete,” a reference to Russia’s issues with athlete doping.

Sykes, the head of Los Angeles’ Olympic bid, also said he understands “media coverage stemming from these discussions has been confusing, and transparently — that’s because it is. This is an incredibly complex situation that is constantly evolving.”

Burbank believes the United States “doesn’t really want to start talking about boycotts” despite being one of Ukraine’s strongest allies in the war. Unlike Conrad, the U. professor said he thinks the IOC will be forced to back away from its proposal.

“Presumably, what the United States is going to do is expect the IOC to hold the line and not have Russians competing in Paris,” Burbank said, unless there’s “some miraculous resolution of the war, which doesn’t seem to be happening.”

With most of the world “lined up against Russia,” he said the IOC needs “to stick with their original position, which is to say we can’t have athletes coming in and competing in the Olympics when their country has invaded another country that will also be competing.”