For the ” assignment unifying” sport, it’s a failure. By unveiling, on January 25, a roadmap marking the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to major international competitions, the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, only brought the divisions to their climax. To the point that Ukraine could give up sending a delegation to the Paris 2024 Games. The subject must be discussed on Friday February 3 at an extraordinary general meeting of its National Olympic Committee (NOC). “The threat of a boycott becomes credible”says Lukas Aubin, research director at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) and specialist in the geopolitics of sport.
On February 28, 2022, the IOC recommended that international federations and competition organizers not invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes. The words had been weighed, no question of “ban” or“exclude”. “Heavy Heart” the body based in Lausanne had nevertheless broken with its traditional neutrality. A response to the war in Ukraine, launched four days earlier by Vladimir Putin, with the help of Belarus. The IOC’s recommendation was acted upon: in the majority of disciplines, athletes from both countries were declared personæ non gratæ.
Almost a year later, the fighting has not stopped in Ukraine, but the position of the IOC has changed. For the past two weeks, discussions have multiplied with the international federations – the only decision-makers in fine –the national Olympic committees, the members of the IOC and the athletes, to define the modalities for a return of Russians and Belarusians to the bosom of world sport: under a neutral banner and on condition that the athletes concerned have not “not actively supported the war in Ukraine”.
“A reversal is now taking place on the IOC side, because there is a deadline: the start of Olympic qualifications. If we want there to be Russians and Belarusians at the Paris Games, they must be able to take part in the selections”summarizes Patrick Clastres, historian of Olympism and professor at the University of Lausanne.
For kyiv, this prospect is inconceivable. “Olympism and terrorist states must not cross paths”insisted President Volodymyr Zelensky, on January 29, a few days after having invited Thomas Bach to go to Bakhmout, where the fighting is raging.
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