Nothing has been decided yet, but the horizon for the 2024 Olympics in Paris is bright for Russians and Belarusians: despite the war in Ukraine, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Wednesday laid out a road map to reintegrate them into world sport.
“No athlete should be excluded from the competition just because of their passport,” the executive director of the Olympic body said after consulting with representatives of athletes, international federations and national Olympic committees.
Behind this declaration of principle is a series of behind-the-scenes maneuvers that began last fall to bring back the Russians and Belarusians, who were excluded from most international competitions after the invasion of Ukraine at the end of February 2022.
The file is politically sensitive: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday demanded that his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron ban Russians from the next Olympic Games less than two years from now.
But the right to participate in the Olympics depends not on the IOC, which is trying to reconcile the sport’s “unifying mission” with strong anti-Russian anger, especially in Europe, but on the 28 international federations that govern summer Olympic sports.
– Neutral athletes –
The Olympic body, in the second act, therefore, has been playing a decisive role for a year: “with heartache” it “recommended” to exclude Russians and Belarusians, to “protect” their integrity and international competitions. and now points to their return.
So its executive committee on Wednesday proposed a road map for the first time to federations, urging them to “further study the way in which the relevant athletes can rejoin sporting events under strict conditions”.
In more detail, the Russians and Belarusians would line up “as neutral athletes” provided they “not actively support the war in Ukraine” and fully comply with the “World Anti-Doping Code,” subject to “testing.”
If the athlete does not strictly comply, “the International Federation and/or the organizers of the sporting event in question must immediately expel him (…) and report the incident to the IOC so that it can consider other measures or sanctions.” , continues its organization.
The IOC, like the representatives of the athletes and the Olympic world it consults, reaffirms that it is bound by the “sanctions” affecting Russia and Belarus on the other hand: no international competitions will be held on their territory, no flag, anthem will be played, symbols or representative officials will only participate in international events.
– This will be decided by the federations –
Additionally, the Lausanne-based organization, which tasked former pole vaulting legend Sergei Bubka to coordinate humanitarian aid to Ukrainian athletes in March 2022, insists in “solidarity” with the Ukrainian Olympic community that the country has a “strong delegation.” to the Paris Olympics in 2024, as well as to the Olympics to be held in Milan in 2026.”
But now the whole question will be how the international federations, who followed the IOC directives too quickly at the end of the winter of 2022, will accept the new recommendations.
In the middle of last December, the president of the International Athletics Federation, Sebastian Coe, reminded that the Russians remained banned “for the foreseeable future”, especially since their case in this main Olympic discipline is more complicated: regardless of the Ukrainian file, the Russian Federation has been suspended since 2015 for implementing an institutionalized doping system and progress on this should be reassessed in March.
Depending on the Olympic qualification regime chosen for each sport, time is already running out: qualification for the marathon race thus begins on November 20, and for most of the other 47 athletics events on July 1.
Tony Estanguet, president of the Organizing Committee of the Paris Olympic Games, emphasized on Wednesday evening that on the part of the organizers, we are “waiting for the rules to come into force”. “We hope that the universal role of the Olympics can be preserved in 2024, we do not know exactly what the geopolitical situation of international relations will be.”