This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
The executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on March 28 recommended allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to take part in international competitions as neutral athletes, but said it will make a decision “at the appropriate time” on whether to allow them to compete at next year’s Paris Olympics.
The executive board issued six recommendations in a statement after a meeting at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, saying that while they do not concern the participation of athletes from Russia and Belarus in the 2024 Paris Olympics, their implementation will be monitored.
“The IOC will take this decision at the appropriate time, at its full discretion,” the IOC statement said.
Despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, the board said during nearly four months of consultations, it was clear that the “vast majority” of Olympic Movement stakeholders “want a pathway to be opened for the competitions under their sole authority,” but they also requested recommendations should they decide to admit athletes from Russia or Belarus.
The executive board on March 28 said following this request, it issued six recommendations, saying that while they do not concern the participation of athletes from Russia and Belarus in the 2024 Paris Olympics, their implementation will be monitored.
The recommendations include allowing Russians and Belarusians to compete as individual neutral athletes and bars teams from the two countries. The board also recommended barring athletes who actively support the war and athletes who are “contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military.”
The monitoring of the implementation of the recommendations “will be an important factor in the decision by the IOC concerning the participation of athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport in the Olympic Games Paris 2024 and the Olympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026,” the executive board said.
IOC President Thomas Bach said after the meeting that the executive board wants to monitor the implementation of the recommendations “as long as possible…to be enabled to take an informed decision.”
The board, he said, did not consider it appropriate to give a timeline, adding, “no one knows what’s happening tomorrow or in nine months.”
Poland slammed the IOC action, while Russia’s Olympic Committee said the recommendations were unacceptable.
“What positive things has Russia done for their athletes to now take part in competitions!! After Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel!! After the daily bombings of civilian sites!! It’s a day of shame for the IOC!!” Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk said on Twitter.
Stanislav Pozdnyakov, the head of Russia’s Olympic Committee, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the IOC action is “discrimination on the basis of nationality.”
Bach defended plans to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes back into competitions as neutrals, telling the board in his address at the start of the meeting that the method is employed “in a number of sports, most prominently in tennis but also in cycling,” but also in ice hockey, handball, and soccer.
He said the method “works,” adding, there been no “security incidents.”
The IOC sanctioned Russia and Belarus after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and the executive board on March 28 reiterated its condemnation of the invasion.
Bach’s support for allowing athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete as neutrals and thereby have a chance to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics has faced opposition, particularly from Ukraine, which has threatened to boycott the Paris Olympics should Russian and Belarusians be allowed to compete, even as neutrals.
More than 300 fencers on March 28 wrote to Bach to ask the IOC to reconsider allowing them back, calling it a “catastrophic error” should Russia and Belarus return.
“You have chosen Russian and Belarusian interests over the rights of athletes, notably Ukrainian athletes, and by doing so, you are failing to support the very people your organizations are meant to support,” the letter said.
Bach said politics could not be a part of sports competitions, and the board said “the Olympic Games cannot prevent wars and conflicts. Nor can they address all the political and social challenges in our world. This is the realm of politics.”