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The International Olympic Committee said that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed to compete as long as they have no links to the military.
The International Olympic Committee said that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed to compete as long as they have no links to the military.FABRICE COFFRINIAFP


IOC president welcomes back Russian and Belarusian athletes

The International Olympic Committee said that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed to compete as long as they have no links to the military.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has defended the decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutral athletes in international sports after being banned in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine. However, Russian and Belarusian athletes, teams, and/or coaches who are vocal supporters of the war would remain banned.

The IOC Executive Board held a three-day meeting to discuss a solidarity plan with Ukraine and decide on sanctions against Russia and Belarus. On Tuesday, Bach spoke to the decision of allowing the athletes to participate.

“First of all, what is maybe most important, what has changed, is that participation of athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports in competitions and in international competitions, works,” Bach said. “We see this almost every day in a number of sports. We see it most prominently in tennis, but we see it also in cycling. We see it in some table tennis competitions, we see it in ice hockey, we see it in handball, we see it in football and in other leagues – in the United States, but also in Europe, and we also see it in other continents.”

“And in none of these competitions has a security incident been happening, or we haven’t been informed about. It’s even that the governments on whose territory the competitions are taking place, they’re issuing visas with very few exceptions. In other countries, they’re even issuing working permits where it’s necessary for these players and athletes.”

Bach added that it would be discriminatory not to let certain athletes participate based on their nationality, calling it “a flagrant violation of human rights”. The Olympic Committee has set out a path for Russian and Belarusian athletes to qualify for a spot through Asian qualifying and would then let the international federations decide on how to organize.

Backlash to Russian and Belarusian athletes participation

Despite this, the IOC said that this advice would not apply to the athletes participating in the Summer Olympics in Paris 2024 nor the Winter Olympics in Milano Cortina in 2026. They denied that they were stalling on a decision in hopes that the war would end before coming to a conclusion.

“The IOC will take this decision at the appropriate time at its full discretion,” said Bach. “We are not kicking it down the road.”

The plan to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete has been met with strong opposition. In fact, Ukrainian tennis player Marta Kostyuk criticized Bach for using her win over Russian Varvara Gracheva as an example of what “works” regarding Russian athletes. After the victory, Kostyuk refused to shake Gracheva’s hand.

“We have a ranking system in our sport. If I don’t participate I will lose my ranking and my career will be over,” said Kostyuk. “A lot has been said and I wanted to say from myself, we have not been doing it publicly, but for the last year we have been fighting to exclude Russians and Belarusians from our sport. Unfortunately we are not independent players. We are working for the WTA and ATP, and we do not have a lot of power to make changes.”

Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Olympic Games in Paris if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to participate. 36 countries have pledged their support to continue the ban. The World Athletics president Sebastian Coe ruled out Russian and Belarusian athletes “for the foreseeable future” just last week. Ahead of the IOC’s meeting this week, hundreds of fencers wrote to the IOC, asking them to uphold the sanctions.

“Russia’s aggression violates not only the norms of international law but also the fundamental values of Olympism, including peace, harmonious development of humankind and respect for human dignity and human rights,” the letter reads. “As long as Russia’s war of aggression, aided by Belarus, wages on, both states’ athletes and officials must remain excluded from world sport. Given the recent escalation of attacks against Ukrainian civilians, there should be no reason at this time to allow Russia and Belarus to be reintegrated into world sport.”

All of this comes just after the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported on the thousands of civilian deaths, torture, rape, and detention in Ukraine.