The International Olympic Committee pushed back against the mayor of Paris on Wednesday, insisting there were no plans for “a Russian or Belarusian delegation” at the 2024 Games while also acknowledging some athletes from those countries could be welcomed.
The IOC statement came a day after Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said no Russians or Belarusians should be allowed to compete at next year’s Olympics because of their involvement in the war in Ukraine.
Olympic leaders have set out 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 anthems.
“It is not possible to parade as if nothing had happened, to have a delegation that comes to Paris while the bombs continue to rain down on Ukraine,” Hidalgo said Tuesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, along with many sports leaders and athletes, have consistently said all potential competitors from Russia or Belarus should be banned from Paris, extending a decision that was applied in most Olympic sports within days of the war starting last February.
Olympic bodies and lawmakers in the Baltic and Nordic regions of Europe have also publicly supported Ukraine in standing against the IOC’s preferred route. They have warned of a possible boycott, and are expected to join an online call of sports ministers Friday hosted by the British government.
Russian athletes have avoided being banned outright from the past four Olympics dating back to 2016 in fallout from a scandal of state-backed doping.
At the past three Olympics, they competed without their national identity but in uniforms that clearly identified them as Russians. The first decision for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games was by the IOC, and judges at the Court of Arbitration for Sport decided conditions for Russians at the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021 and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.
The IOC has cited advice from a human rights expert that banning athletes on the basis of their passport would be discrimination, and sought to clarify its position Wednesday.
“There are no plans for a Russian or Belarusian delegation or the flags of these countries at the Olympic Games Paris 2024,” the Olympic body said. “The only option that could be considered are individual, neutral athletes like we have seen last year at the French Open in tennis and recently again at the Australian Open in tennis and in other professional sports.”
Tennis and cycling are among the few sports to let Russian and Belarusian athletes continue to compete without their country’s name, flag or anthem.
Though the IOC guided Olympic sports bodies last February toward excluding Russians and Belarusians from international events, that position eased as qualifying ramps up for the Paris Olympics.
Qualification paths are being sought in Asia — such as at the Asian Games that start in September in Hangzhou, China — to avoid security issues and hostility from some competitors that are likely in Europe.
Final decisions on the possible eligibility of athletes will 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.
The French government does not rule out a potential “sanction” against Russia at the Paris Olympics, its spokesperson Olivier Veran said Wednesday in a news conference, answering a question from The Associated Press.
“So far, no official decision has been made with the IOC” regarding the Paris Olympics, Veran said. “But you know that France has been consistently in favor of fully and completely applying any sanction.”
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