The International Olympic Committee says it is exploring options for Russia’s return to international competitions
Athletes from Russia and Belarus could participate in Olympic qualification events in Asia, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) examines options for the return of both countries to international sporting events, it said in a statement on Wednesday.
The sports elite from Russia and Belarus have been restricted from competing in various events over the last eleven months after the IOC announced the introduction of sanctions soon after the onset of Russia’s military action in Ukraine last year.
More recently, IOC president Thomas Bach has stated that while he believes that sanctions should continue against the governments of Russia and Belarus, he hoped to explore ways for athletes from the two affected countries to continue to compete in the international field, provided that they satisfy certain criteria.
In a media release on Wednesday, the IOC said that it “welcomed and appreciated the offer from the Olympic Council of Asia to give [Russian and Belarusian] athletes access to Asian competitions.”
This could potentially clear a pathway for athletes from these countries to qualify for the next Olympic Games in Paris in 2024. Many athletes are currently unable to compete in European Olympic qualifying events due to the wave of sanctions introduced by the IOC last year.
The IOC has stated that it believes that Russians and Belarusians should be permitted to compete in Paris under a neutral Olympic flag; however, questions remain as to how competitors from both countries could qualify.
It added: “No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport” and that “a pathway for athletes’ participation in competition under strict conditions should therefore be further explored.”
The “strict conditions” announced by the IOC include a requirement to “fully respect the Olympic Charter,” which it defines as ruling out any athlete who professes support for the military operation in Ukraine.
Furthermore, athletes must be fully compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code.
Among the factors discussed by the IOC ahead of the release of the statement was a communication from Special Rapporteurs in the fields of ‘cultural rights’ and on «contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance of the United Nations Human Rights Council.«
“We express serious concern, however, about the recommendation to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials such as judges from international competitions, based solely on their nationality, as a matter of principle. This raises serious issues of non-discrimination,” the letter from the Special Rapporteurs said.
In a message on Telegram this week, Ukraine president Vladimir Zelensky said that he spoke to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and told him that he believed the Russian athletes should have “no place” at the Paris Olympics.
Various qualifying events for Paris 2024 have already begun, with more than 10,000 athletes from numerous countries attempting to secure entry to the event, which will feature a total of 32 sports.