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The International Olympic Committee takes another step towards the reintegration of Russian and Belarusian athletes


For weeks, Thomas Bach had made no secret of his desire to see Russian and Belarusian athletes compete under a neutral banner at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. The President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had publicly pleaded, on behalf of the “sport’s unifying mission”for the reinstatement of athletes from both countries, who had been banned from most competitions in response to the invasion of Ukraine by Kremlin troops at the end of February 2022, and for Minsk’s support for this offensive.

Despite strong protests from kyiv, the IOC took a new step in this direction on Wednesday, January 25: in a press release, it thus outlined the terms of their return. The decision will however rest with the international federations, the “the only authorities that can govern international competitions in their sport”. In fact, the right to participate in the Olympic Games depends on the twenty-eight international federations governing summer Olympic sports, and not on the IOC.

The body may well position itself as a second curtain, but it plays a crucial role in this case. It was she who had ” recommended “ the exclusion of Russians and Belarusians, almost a year ago, before starting, last December, a series of consultations in order to organize their reintegration.

Also read the story: Article reserved for our subscribers With the war in Ukraine, Olympism oscillates between realpolitik and hypocrisy

After meeting in particular with representatives of athletes, federations and National Olympic Committees, its Executive Board urged on Wednesday to “study further how” which the athletes concerned could resume competition.

No athletes who “supported the war in Ukraine”

However, the proposed roadmap implies “strict conditions”. Russians and Belarusians would line up “as neutral athletes”and could only participate if they do not have “not actively supported the war in Ukraine”. They will also have to comply “fully world anti-doping code”, “verifications” as a result – in 2020, Russia was banned from major international events, including the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2021 and the Beijing Winter Games in 2022, for violating anti-doping rules.

Read also: The IOC opens the door to a return to competition for Russians who have “distanced themselves from the regime”

For instance, “no athlete should be banned from competition solely on the basis of their passport”. This position is shared by ” the large majority “ of those consulted, according to the statement.

The IOC, which from the start has presented the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes as a “protective measure” of their integrity and not as a punishment, on the other hand reaffirmed its attachment to the “penalties” striking their countries: no international competition held on their soil, no official flag, anthem or symbol for their athlete, and no guest representatives at international events.

This position is far from satisfying the Ukrainian authorities. The day before the release of the body’s press release, President Volodymyr Zelensky had again asked his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, to exclude Russians from the next Olympics. The question now will be how the international federations will take up the new recommendations, which had been very quick to follow the IOC’s directives at the end of winter 2022.

In mid-December, the president of the International Athletics Federation, Sebastian Coe, recalled that the Russians remained banned “for the near future”especially since their case is more complex in this major Olympic discipline: independently of the Ukrainian file, the Russian Federation has been suspended since 2015 for having set up an institutionalized doping system, and progress in this area must be reassessed in March .

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Depending on the method of qualifying for the Olympic Games chosen in each sport, time is already running out: those for the marathon event, for example, began on November 20; they will start on 1er next July for most of the other forty-seven track and field events.

As for the organizers, we are waiting “the rules that will be enacted”underlined Wednesday evening Tony Estanguet, the president of the Organizing Committee of the Paris Games. “We hope that the universal role of the Olympics can be preserved in 2024, we do not know exactly what the geopolitical state of international relations will be. »

The World with AFP