LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) -The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday issued recommendations for the gradual return to international competitions for Russian and Belarusian athletes as neutrals, with President Thomas Bach saying their participation “works” despite the war in Ukraine. The IOC Executive Board’s recommendations concern the return of those athletes to international competitions but not […]
Olympics-IOC issues recommendations for Russian athletes’ return to competitions
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) -The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday issued recommendations for the gradual return to international competitions for Russian and Belarusian athletes as neutrals, with President Thomas Bach saying their participation “works” despite the war in Ukraine.
The IOC Executive Board’s recommendations concern the return of those athletes to international competitions but not the 2024 Paris Olympics where a separate decision will be taken at a later date.
However, the recommendations triggered angry reactions from countries opposed to Russian and Belarusian participation as well as from Russia, whose Olympic Committee chief, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, called them “absolutely unacceptable.”
Bach told a news conference after the IOC meeting: “Sports organisations must have the sole responsibility to decide which athletes can take part in international competitions based on their sporting merits and not on political grounds or because of their passports.”
He said the recommendations for events organisers and sports federations to follow included that Russian and Belarusian athletes can only compete as neutrals, with no flag or anthem.
They cannot take part in team events and must have a proven drugs testing record, while athletes who support the war or are contracted to their countries’ military or national security agency are excluded.
These recommendations do not include the 2024 Olympics and the potential participation of Russia and Belarus, Bach said.
“The IOC will take this decision at the appropriate time at its full discretion, without being bound by results of previous Olympic qualifiers,” Bach said. He did not say when the IOC would take that decision.
The IOC had sanctioned Russia and Belarus after the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a ‘special military operation’, but it is now eager to see athletes come back across all sports and have a chance to qualify for the Paris Games.
It has set out a pathway for these competitors to earn Olympic slots through Asian qualifying but has faced headwinds, with Ukraine threatening to boycott next year’s Olympics should they compete there, even as neutrals.
‘DAY OF SHAME’
Poland, a neighbour to Ukraine, reacted angrily to the IOC’s recommendations, calling it a “day of shame” for the Olympic body.
“What happened that was so positive from the Russian side that their athletes should take part in competitions!!,” Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk tweeted.
“After Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel!! After daily bombing of civilian targets!! It’s a day of shame for the IOC!!”
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said Russia had no place in the Olympics.
“I am disappointed by the IOC recommendations,” Lipavsky wrote on Twitter. “We must not close our eyes to reality. Russian sport is centrally managed by the Kremlin. The Russian regime does not know what fair play is.”
“Its athletes do not belong in the Olympic Games. We will continue to deal with this issue, including with the expert group (Czech Olympic Committee).”
Russia was also fuming, with its athletes now having to compete without the nation’s flags, emblems or anthems.
“The parameters as announced are absolutely unacceptable,” Russian Olympic Committee president Pozdnyakov told a news conference, according to Russian news agencies.
Bach had earlier told the IOC Executive Board that Russian and Belarusian athletes were already competing daily in many sports without facing problems.
“Participation of athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports in international competitions works,” Bach told the board at the start of the meeting at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne.
“We see this almost every day in a number of sports, most prominently in tennis but also in cycling, in some table tennis competitions.”
“In none of these competition security incidents have been happening.”
World Athletics, the biggest Olympic crowd-puller, last week decided to keep Russians and Belarusians banned from all of their events for the foreseeable future due to the Ukraine war, going against the IOC.
A dozen countries boycotted this month’s women’s world boxing championships in protest at the presence of Russians and Belarusians at the event.
More than 300 fencers wrote to Bach to ask the IOC to reconsider allowing them back, calling it a “catastrophic error” should Russia and Belarus return.
Germany’s elite athletes’ grouping Athleten Deutschland on Tuesday also pitched in, calling on the IOC to ban them completely for the duration of the war.
Bach said politics could not be part of sports competitions and athletes should not be punished for their passports.
“We will not be able to come up with a solution which pleases everyone. With this we may have to live.”
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Additional reporting by Ron Popeski, Jan Lopatka in Prague and Alan Charlish in Warsaw Editing by Sharon Singleton, Christian Radnedge and Ken Ferris)
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