The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made it clear that it wants Russians to compete at Paris 2024 as neutral athletes, in defiance of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s call to exclude them altogether.
Citing a wartime ‘unifying mission’, the International Olympic Committee said no athlete should face discrimination based solely on the passport they held.
“A pathway for athletes’ participation in competition under strict conditions should therefore be further explored,” the IOC said in a statement released after an executive committee meeting. IOC President Thomas Bach did not hold his usual press conference after the match.
Russia was not directly condemned in the statement, although athletes who “actively support the war in Ukraine” risk being barred from the Paris Olympics in 18 months, the IOC said.
The IOC cited the example of Yugoslavs competing at the Barcelona Games in 1992 – as “independent athletes” while the nation was under United Nations sanctions during a civil war.
The Olympic leaders’ desire to involve Russia and its military ally Bealrus is likely to be met with dismay and anger in Kyiv.
Zelenskyy addressed the issue on Tuesday after speaking with French President Emmanuel Macron, who helped campaign for the Paris Olympics when he was a candidate for the bid in 2017.
“I particularly insisted that Russian athletes should have no place in the Paris Olympics,” Zelenskyy wrote on his Telegram account of his interviews with Macron.
The IOC board met to formalize a position after a series of conference calls last week with global groups of Olympic officials, sports governing bodies, IOC members and athlete representatives.
Despite some backlash to the calls, including from Ukraine’s Olympic body, the IOC said on Wednesday its stated goals were backed by the “vast majority” of those who took part.
The Russians would be classified as “neutral athletes” and “in no way represent their state or any other organization in their country”, the IOC said. Russian athletes have not competed in any Olympics under their country’s name since the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 due to fallout from a long doping saga.
Tennis has been the most publicized example in the past 11 months of Russians continuing to compete in their sport without symbols of national identity such as flags and anthems.
A point raised in Ukraine as a sensitive issue is that some Russian athletes are funded and supported by the military and have earned ranks.
The Olympic statement suggested that the responsibility would lie with individual sports governing bodies to ensure that any Russian athlete supporting the war is removed from competition, suspended and reported to the IOC for action.
The IOC also called on sports bodies to strengthen “the total and unwavering commitment of solidarity with Ukrainian athletes” in preparation for the Paris Olympics.
Additional reports by AP.