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Athletes from Russia and Belarus should be allowed to compete, IOC says

GENEVA — Some Russian athletes may soon return to international sports, although their status for next year’s Paris Olympics is still up in the air.

The International Olympic Committee recommended on Tuesday that individual athletes from Russia and Belarus be allowed to return to competition under a neutral status as long as they have no military ties. But the IOC, facing increased pressure to ban Russia and Belarus from the Paris Olympics due to the war in Ukraine, has not decided whether they can compete in next year’s Summer Games.

This decision will be taken “at the appropriate time”, said IOC President Thomas Bach. As for other events, including the Olympic qualifiers, it will be up to each sport’s governing body to make the final decision on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.

While the IOC has said Russia and Belarus should remain banned from team sports such as soccer and basketball, it still defied repeated calls from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to ban all athletes Russians while his country is occupied and attacked. But athletes from Russia and its military ally Belarus who have actively supported the war in Ukraine, or who are “under contract with the military or national security agencies”, should not be allowed to compete as neutral individuals, Bach said.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said more than 20 of the country’s medalists at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics had military ranks. Of the 71 medals won in Japan, 45 were won by athletes affiliated with the Central Sports Club of the Army.

In team sports, Russia and Belarus “cannot be considered” for a comeback, Bach told a news conference after what he said was unanimous agreement in the executive board of 15 members.

Team events in other sports, such as relay or mixed doubles or team all-around in gymnastics, should also be banned, the IOC said in a document explaining its guidelines.

“There is definitely discrimination there,” Russian gymnastics coach Valentina Rodionenko said in comments reported by RIA Novosti, adding that with “conditions like these, they understand very well that Russia itself will not accept them”.

In the guidance document, the IOC said it wanted Russians and Belarusians to be known as Individual Neutral Athletes with the French acronym AIN.

They must wear all-white or one-color uniforms, and cannot have a team logo. Athletes should be banned from displaying their national flags on social media or making statements “that could be detrimental to the interests of the competition, its integrity or the neutrality of the participants”, the 5-page document states.

The IOC’s recommendations “do not concern” the Paris Games which open in 16 months.

“The IOC will make this decision at the appropriate time, at its sole discretion,” Bach said, adding that “we are not going to put it off” when asked if the IOC was indeed buying time for the war to end. .

Individual Olympic sports must now decide entry and eligibility requirements for their events, which includes ongoing qualifying for the Paris Olympics and beyond for the Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo 2026 Winter Games. .

Some Olympic sports, such as track and field and gymnastics, have established independent integrity units that have earned wide respect. The position of some sports bodies that have strong sporting, commercial and political ties with Russia is less clear.

The suggested conditions are stricter than when Russia was under doping sanctions at every Winter and Summer Games since 2018. At those events, uniforms in the national colors could be worn and music by Tchaikovsky was played when Russian athletes won gold medals.

The IOC also said event organizers should not display Russian or Belarusian flags and should try to prevent spectators from bringing national flags to venues. Four fans with Russian flags, including one with an image of President Vladimir Putin, were expelled after having them flown at the Australian Open tennis tournament in January.

The IOC opinion presented on Tuesday marks a profound change in the sport’s position on Russia and Belarus following a near total exclusion by most governing bodies.

Days after the war began in February last year, the IOC urged sports bodies to isolate Russia and Belarus. He cited an “extremely serious breach” of the Olympic truce in place for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, as well as the integrity and security of sporting events, including the injustice that Russians could training in peace while the lives of Ukrainian athletes were disrupted.

In January, the IOC officially announced that it would seek a “pathway for the participation of athletes in competition under strict conditions”, with a view to allowing Russians and Belarusians to try to qualify for the Paris Olympics. .

Bach has repeatedly pointed to the advice of independent UN-recognized human rights experts that excluding athletes on the basis of their passports alone would be discrimination.

On Tuesday, Bach said one of the factors that had changed the IOC’s thinking was that some sports had already reinstated neutral Russians and Belarusians, such as tennis and cycling. The exclusion of the Russian teams by FIFA and UEFA has been confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne.

Zelenskyy has always called for the exclusion of all Russian athletes and teams. His call is supported by some governments and Olympic bodies in Europe and elsewhere.

“A slap in the face to Ukrainian athletes,” Sports Minister of Bach’s native Germany, Nancy Faeser, said on Tuesday in response to the IOC’s announcement. “Those who allow warmongering Russia to use international competitions for its propaganda harm the Olympic idea of ​​peace and international understanding.”

Russian Olympic Committee President Stanislav Pazdnyakov told Tass that the guidelines would prevent athletes from competing: “The decision is a farce, the basic principles of the Olympic Charter are violated.”

Ukrainian athletes, including past and current Olympic medalists, have also publicly disapproved of the IOC’s declared “unifying mission” to peacefully bring the world together in sport.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has said there should be no Russian delegation to her city’s Olympics if the war in Ukraine continues.

Bach was once close to Putin ahead of the steroid-tainted Sochi 2014 Winter Games during his first year as IOC director and reminded reporters on Tuesday that last year he stripped an Olympic honor from the president. Russian.

When asked if he had communicated with Putin recently, Bach replied: “A clear ‘no’.”

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