IOC clears way for Russia’s return to world sport

The International Olympic Committee has recommended the readmission of Russian and Belarusian athletes as neutral athletes.

The IOC has published a recommendation on the admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international competitions.

The IOC has published a recommendation on the admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international competitions.Hannibal Hanschke/epa/dpa

LausanneThomas Bach stuck closely to his manuscript as he blazed a trail for athletes from Russia and Belarus back onto the international sporting stage.

According to the will of his International Olympic Committee, the athletes of both countries, who have been excluded since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, should again be able to take part in competitions around the world as neutral athletes. According to the decision of the IOC leadership, athletes with connections to the military and security organs as well as teams should remain locked out.

A decision on allowing Russians and Belarusians to participate in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris will only be made later, emphasized IOC President Bach. “Now is not the right time,” said the 69-year-old after reading the IOC recommendations to world associations and sports organizers for almost 20 minutes.

National symbols remain prohibited

According to the will of the Olympic umbrella organization, no international competitions may continue to take place in Russia and Belarus. Government officials from either country may not be invited to competitions.

Athletes must do without the flag, anthem and symbols of their home countries and comply with anti-doping regulations. They are only allowed to participate in competitions if they do not actively support Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. “We stand by our Olympic values,” said Bach.

Resistance to the IOC’s course comes mainly from Ukraine and a number of western countries. Ukraine points out that many top Russian athletes are also members of the Russian military. In a conversation between IOC chief Bach and the National Olympic Committees on the eve of the IOC deliberations, Ukrainian Sports Minister Wadym Gutzajt recalled that 262 Ukrainian athletes and coaches had already been killed in the war with Russia.

Much criticism from politics and the world of sports

Ukraine is also threatening to boycott international competitions up to the Olympics to avoid clashing with athletes from Russia and Belarus. The German Olympic Sports Confederation supported the demands for a continuation of the ban against Russia and Belarus. “But we accept that with this attitude we belong to a minority in international sport. It is now all the more important that the strict requirements are credibly implemented and sanctions are imposed in the event of violations,” the DOSB announced on Tuesday.

However, the umbrella organization excludes an Olympic boycott “for fundamental reasons”, as association boss Thomas Weikert told the newspapers of the Funke media group.

“The IOC’s decision is a slap in the face for Ukrainian athletes,” said Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD). There is no reason for Russia to return to world sport. “Anyone who lets the warmonger Russia use international competitions for its propaganda harms the Olympic ideal of peace and international understanding,” added Faeser.

The Association of Athletes Germany also reacted in a statement “disappointed with the expected recommendation”. A re-admission is not suitable to prevent the instrumentalization of sport and athletes for Putin’s war propaganda.

In February, the sports ministers from 35 countries had already called for the further exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes in a joint declaration. In addition to Germany, other top sporting nations such as Great Britain, the USA, Australia, Japan and France also supported this attitude.

“We can make peace”

The IOC had recently sharply rejected these calls as inadmissible interference by politics in the interests of sport. “It is not up to governments to decide which athletes are allowed to compete in which international competitions,” the IOC said in a statement. “If politicians decide who is allowed to take part in the Olympic Games or not, that would be the end of sport in the world,” Bach affirmed.

The IOC is getting support from other parts of the world to lift the ban that has been in place since the beginning of the war. The return of Russians and Belarusians has many supporters, especially in Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania. “We can open the door for dialogue and work towards peace,” said IOC boss Bach.

According to Bach, with the specification of a uniform line, the IOC wants to avoid a “total chaos” in world sport. But that seems quite difficult in practice. The world athletics association just extended the exclusion of Russians and Belarusians because of the war. In boxing, on the other hand, athletes from the two countries were even allowed to start under their national flag at the amateur World Championships and, in the event of victory, also hear the national anthem.

Fencer protest against decision

The fencers are also experiencing an ordeal. The world association has decided by a large majority to allow Russians and Belarusians to qualify for the Olympics. More than 300 active and former fencers spoke out in a letter against this step. Several countries, including Germany, resigned from hosting international events.

The IOC had also argued that excluding Russians and Belarusians based on their nationality would constitute discrimination. The IOC also referred to the findings of two UN experts.

However, a legal opinion commissioned by the DOSB on a human rights assessment contradicted the IOC line. Accordingly, an exclusion of Russian athletes despite the unequal treatment on the basis of nationality “would not be classified as a violation of international bans on discrimination and would therefore be permissible”.

Many Polish users were upset about the decision on Twitter. One user said that it was clear that a German made the decision.

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