IOC insists it has ‘no plans for a Russian or Belarusian delegation’ at the 2024 Olympics
The International Olympic Committee opposed the mayor of Paris on Wednesday, insisting there were no plans for “a Russian or Belarusian delegation” at the 2024 Games, while also acknowledging that some athletes from those countries would be welcome.
The statement from the IOC came a day after Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said Russians or Belarusians should not participate in next year’s Olympics because of their involvement in the war in Ukraine.
Olympic leaders have set a path for athletes from Russia and Belarus who have not actively supported the war to try to qualify and compete as “neutral athletes” without a national identity such as team uniforms, flags and national anthems.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, along with many sports leaders and athletes, has consistently said that all potential participants from Russia or Belarus should be banned from Paris, extending a decision that was applied in most Olympic sports within days of the start of the war last February.
Olympic bodies and lawmakers in Europe’s Baltic and Nordic regions have also publicly supported Ukraine in opposing the IOC’s preferred route. They have warned of a possible boycott and are expected to take part in an online appeal of sports ministers organized by the UK government on Friday.
Possibility neutral athlete
Russian athletes have avoided being completely banned from the past four Olympics dating back to 2016 over a state-sponsored doping scandal. At the past three Olympic Games, they competed without their national identities but in uniforms that clearly identified them as Russians.
The IOC has cited a human rights expert’s advice that banning athletes based on their passports would be discrimination, and sought to clarify its position on Wednesday.
Tennis and cycling are among the few sports where Russian and Belarusian athletes can continue to compete without their country’s name, flag or national anthem.
The final decisions regarding the potential eligibility of athletes rest with the governing bodies of individual sports. The umbrella group of Summer Olympic sports, known as ASOIF, will meet on March 3 to discuss the issue.
Ukrainian bronze medalist calls for complete ban
Meanwhile, Ukrainian tennis player and Olympic bronze medalist Elina Svitolina pushed for a total ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Svitolina, who won her bronze medal in singles at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, is visiting Ukraine for the first time since Russia invaded the country last year. Finally, she calls for a complete ban on athletes from Russia and Belarus because of the war.
“It will be very sad and the wrong message would go out to the world if the Olympic Games were left with the decision to organize them. [Russia and Belarus] under a neutral flag,” Svitolina said in the interview. “I don’t think this is the right decision.”
Svitolina, who had a baby with husband Gael Monfils in October, said sports and politics are inseparable in Russia.
“You can see that sport in Russia is connected to the government,” Svitolina said.
Speakers at the Ukrainian Olympic Committee meeting expressed concern that Russia is using the Paris Games for propaganda and pointed to the close ties between some athletes and the Russian military.
“Boycott would be one of the options, because what the Russian army is doing to the Ukrainian people, to Ukraine, is obviously terrible for us,” Svitolina said. “I can’t imagine going to the Olympics as if nothing happens to Ukraine.”
Svitolina said the decision to boycott should be discussed with the country’s Olympic Committee with input from all Ukrainian athletes involved. However, she didn’t hesitate to say what she thought was the right thing to do.
After a month-long break, Svitolina said she is “actively preparing” to return to tennis in April. Her first visit to Ukraine marks the longest time she has been separated from her daughter.
“Of course I want to be with her, but I have a bigger mission to do for free Ukrainian people,” said Svitolina, who came to the country as an ambassador for United 24, Zelenskyy’s charity donation-raising platform.
During her short stay, she also met Zelenskyy.
Originally from Odessa, which now experiences regular blackouts due to damaged electricity infrastructure, Svitolina said February 24 – the date that will mark a year since the start of the invasion – will forever be a tragic day for every Ukrainian.
“This is something you would never want your enemy to face,” Svitolina said. “It’s a very sad day.”