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What the IOC says now about Russians competing in the Paris Olympics

New recommendations issued for other international competitions

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Mariya Lasitskene, of Russian Olympic Committee, reacts after winning the women’s high jump final at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Mariya Lasitskene, of Russian Olympic Committee, reacts after winning the women’s high jump final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, in Tokyo. Track and field leaders signaled March 23, 2023, that it will be nearly impossible for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at the Paris Olympics next year if the war in Ukraine continues. However, the IOC said it will have the final say.

Charlie Riedel, Associated Press

Will Russian and Belarusian athletes compete in the 2024 Summer Games in Paris?

After hours of closed-door discussions about the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on athlete participation Tuesday, the president of the International Olympic Committee announced that’s a decision that won’t be made until “the appropriate time.”

Just when that might be was not specified, but IOC President Thomas Bach made it clear during a virtual news conference from Switzerland that his organization will have the final say over whether there can be Russian and Belarusian athletes at the Games.

Bach said the IOC Executive Board, which continues meeting through Thursday, did not even consider the issue Tuesday but “expressly reserves the right to decide about their participation at the appropriate time, even if they would be considered to have qualified.”

Instead, the IOC leaders issued recommendations to all of the international sports federations outlining a “pathway” for athletes from Russia and neighboring Belarus to be admitted to competitions under what he termed strict conditions.

“We are standing firm by our values,” Bach said when pressed about seeming to side with Russia over Ukraine, where officials have forcefully spoken out against allowing Russians and Belarusians to return to competition, even raising the possibility of an Olympic boycott.

“We have been accused by the Russian side of being agents of the U.S. And we have been accused on the Ukrainian side of being promoters of war. So we appear to be somewhere in the middle,” the IOC president said.

Bach also bristled at suggestions his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin played any role in adopting the recommendations, pointing out the IOC withdrew its highest honor, the Olympic order, from Putin at the start of the war.

He also said he has not been in communication during the past year with Putin. The 2014 Summer Games in Sochi, Russia, were plagued by doping issues, but two years later Britain’s Guardian newspaper labeled Bach and Putin, “the unlikely Olympic power couple.

The recommendations parallel what the IOC said earlier this year was being considered in a reversal of a previous call shortly after the start of the war in 2022 for barring Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competition.

That reversal, which the IOC continues to say was driven by United Nations concerns that Russian and Belarusian athletes are being discriminated against, has sparked widespread condemnation from officials in many countries, including the United States.

But Bach said Tuesday the sports world rejects “any political interference in the autonomous authority of sports organizations to decide on participation in their competitions.”

The IOC president said such a stance is “considered necessary, because if governments took over the decisions regarding which athletes can take part in which competitions, it would be the end of world sport as we know it today.”

A Ukrainian reporter asked what had changed for the IOC since the call for the ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes since the Russian aggression against his country is continuing.

Bach said the IOC’s previous position “was not a ban, was not a sanction. It was a protective measure,” taken because Russian and Belarusian athletes were being denied visas, while those willing to compete against them were threatened with a loss of funding.

Hosts of sporting events “could not guarantee the safety and security of the Russian or Belarusian athletes because of the very heated up atmosphere in a number of countries. This jeopardized the integrity of international sports competitions,” he said.

Since then, Bach said Russians and Belarusians have participated in a number of international competitions, including against Ukrainians, with no reports of issues with their safety.

He also said the IOC is not trying to wait out Russia’s war against Ukraine before making a decision about Russian and Belarusian participation in the Summer Games in Paris as well as the 2026 Winter Games in Milan and Cortina, Italy.

“We are not kicking it down the road. And we are not waiting,” Bach said, but choosing to monitor how the new recommendations work first. “We would all like the war to end now. This is what we are calling for.”

The recommendations issued by the IOC Executive Board are:

  1. Athletes with a Russian or a Belarusian passport must compete only as individual neutral athletes.
  2. Teams of athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport cannot be considered.
  3. Athletes who actively support the war cannot compete. Support personnel who actively support the war cannot be entered.
  4. Athletes contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies cannot compete. Support personnel contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies cannot be entered.
  5. Any such individual neutral athlete, like all the other participating athletes, must meet all anti-doping requirements applicable to them and particularly those set out in the anti-doping rules of the international federations.
  6. The sanctions against those responsible for the war, the Russian and Belarusian states and governments, must remain in place, meaning no international sports events organized or supported by an international federation or national Olympic committee in Russia or Belarus. No flag, anthem, colors or any other identifications whatsoever of these countries displayed at any sports event or meeting, including the entire venue.