Olympics supremos clear return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to competition

By Paul Myers - RFI
Russia  REUTERSDenis BalibouseFiles
MAR 28, 2023 LISTEN
© REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/Files

Russian and Belarusian athletes took a step closer to taking part in next year's Olympics in Paris after the top brass  at the event's ruling body on Tuesday backed plans to allow them to compete in international competitions under a neutral flag.

The executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said a return was possible so long as the athletes have no links to the armed forces and do not wear national uniforms or symbols. If they were to win a medal, the Russian or Belarusian national anthem could not be played, IOC supremos added.

The decision in the Swiss city of Lausanne was not unexpected. Last month, the IOC boss, Thomas Bach, said Russian and Belarusian athletes should not be discriminated against because of the passports they hold.

On Tuesday, Bach reiterated that no Russian nor Belarusian government official could be invited to or accredited for any international sports event or meeting.

Among other IOC recommendations - which Bach said were agreed unanimously - teams of athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport could not be considered. Also missing out will be athletes who actively support the war.

Bach reiterated that the ban - introduced just after the conflict began in Ukraine in February 2022 - on organising sporting events in Russia and Belarus would continue.

But the tough line - and stating that a final decision had yet to be taken over whether the Russian and Belarusian athletes could even appear as neutrals in Paris or the Winter Games in Milano Cortina in 2026 - failed to stop a backlash.

The German government branded the move a slap in the face for Ukrainian athletes.

"Ukrainian athletes deserve the solidarity of international sport," said Germany's sports minister Nancy Faeser.

"International sport must condemn Russia's brutal war of aggression in no uncertain terms. This can only be done with the complete exclusion of Russia and Belarusian athletes."

Piotr Wawrzyk, Poland's deputy foreign minister, said the IOC's had gone through a day of shame.

He added: "What positive things has Russia done for their athletes to now take part in competitions!! After Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel!! After the daily bombings of civilian sites!!"

Last month Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, accused the IOC of losing its honesty and said his country would boycott the Paris Olympics if the conflict were still underway in 2024 and the Russian and Belarusian athletes were allowed to take part.

Latvia's Olympic committee said it would also snub the event.

Bach warned Vadym Guttsait, the Ukrainian Sports Minister who also serves as the country's National Olympic Committee boss, that a boycott of the Games would be a violation of the Olympic Charter.

Bach said at a political forum in Germany last week that he was against political influence on sports, and any suggestion that Russians should be treated as if they have collective guilt.

Russia has welcomed efforts to readmit its athletes but has demanded they are allowed to compete under their own flag.