The IOC made clear on Wednesday that it wants the Russians to compete as neutral athletes at the 2024 Paris Olympics, defying Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call for them to be excluded altogether.
The International Olympic Committee, citing a “unified mission” during the war, said that no athlete should face discrimination based solely on passport.
The IOC said in a statement published after the executive board meeting that “ways to allow athletes to compete in extreme conditions should be further explored.”
IOC President Thomas Bach did not hold his usual news conference after the meeting.
The IOC said the statement did not directly condemn Russia, although athletes who are “actively supporting the war in Ukraine” have been banned from the Paris Olympics in 18 months’ time.
The IOC cites the example of the Yugoslavs competing in the 1992 Barcelona Games – as “free athletes” while the nation was under UN sanctions during the civil war.
Olympic leaders’ willingness to include Russia and its military ally Belarus could be met with frustration and anger in Kyiv.
Zielinski 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 2017 bid.
“I specifically emphasized that Russian athletes should have no place at the Olympic Games in Paris,” Zelensky wrote on his Telegram account about his conversation with Macron.
“The voice of common sense has been heard,” Russian Olympic Committee President Stanislav Pozdnyakov said in a statement later Wednesday.
“The priority for us is the same – to protect the rights and interests of our players,” Pozdnyakov said.
The IOC board met with world groups of Olympic officials, sports governing bodies, IOC members and athlete representatives to formalize a position after rounds of conference calls last week.
Despite some pushback to those calls, including from the Ukrainian Olympic body, the IOC claimed on Wednesday that its stated goals were supported by the “vast majority” of participants.
The Russians will be classified as “neutral athletes” and “will not represent their state or any other organization in their country in any way,” the IOC said.
Russian athletes have not competed for their country at any Olympics since the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games as a result of a long-running doping scandal.
While Russian players are banned from most international sports, tennis is the most high-profile example of Russians continuing to compete without symbols of national identity such as flags and anthems in the past 11 months.
However, tensions have risen with provocative flags, slogans and T-shirts in support of Russian players at the semi-finals this week at the Australian Open.
The IOC noted on Wednesday that its advice was to ban such displays “throughout the venue”.
A point raised as a sensitive issue in Ukraine is that some Russian athletes are funded and supported by the military and awarded ranks.
The Olympic statement suggested that the onus would be on the governing bodies of individual sports to ensure that any Russian athletes who supported the war were removed from competition, suspended and subject to further action. To be reported to the IOC.
One possible route for Russians trying to qualify for Paris is to compete in Asia instead of Europe, where they would face boycotts and hostility from other athletes.
The IOC said it “welcomed and appreciated the offer from the Olympic Council of Asia”, although it had not yet committed to the plan.
The Olympic body also called on sports bodies to strengthen their “total and unwavering commitment to solidarity with Ukrainian athletes” in the run-up to the Paris Games. (AP)