(Lausanne) A limited, reversible and already controversial return: the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday recommended the reinstatement of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competitions, and will decide “at the appropriate time” on their participation in the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The athletes concerned will only be able to “compete as neutral individual athletes”, as long as they do not “actively support the war in Ukraine” and are not “under contract” with the army or security agencies of the two countries, announced to the press Thomas Bach, the boss of the IOC.
Above all, the Olympic organization recommends their return “only on condition that it can be revoked at the discretion of the international federation concerned”, and has been careful not to decide on the most explosive subject, namely their participation in the next Olympics.
While Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic countries are already threatening to boycott the 2024 Olympics in the event of Russian and Belarusian presence, the IOC will decide on this issue “at the appropriate time, at its sole discretion, and without being bound by the results of qualifying competitions, “announced the German leader, thus leaving himself complete latitude.
But already, the German Minister of Sports considered that the return of the banished was “a slap in the face to Ukrainian athletes”. “International sport must condemn Russia’s brutal war of aggression in clear terms. This can only be done by completely excluding Russian and Belarusian athletes,” said Nancy Faeser in a statement.
Pressed to clarify its position on this diplomatically explosive subject, the IOC announced last December “to explore ways” to bring Russians and Belarusians back into the fold of world sport, after recommending their exclusion at the end of February 2022 due to the invasion. of Ukraine by the Russian army, with the support of neighboring Belarus.
After four months of consultations with the entire Olympic world, the Lausanne body has chosen to leave the international federations and competition organizers with the primary responsibility of whether or not to invite athletes from the two countries, contenting themselves with “recommendations” for “harmonize their approach”.
The IOC executive thus suggests maintaining the exclusion of all Russian and Belarusian teams and limiting the return to competition to athletes “holding a Russian or Belarusian passport” if they compete as an “individual” and under the banner neutral, respect anti-doping regulations and do not “actively support” the war in Ukraine, a criterion that promises to be difficult to assess.
For Thomas Bach, the participation of Russians and Belarusians in the professional tennis or cycling circuit shows that “it already works”, including when they have to face Ukrainian opponents.
Above all, he relied on two principles hammered home for several months, namely “the refusal of any political interference in sport” and “the non-discrimination of any athlete”, which, according to the IOC, prevents Russians and Belarusians from being excluded from the sole basis of their passport.
Left in the dark in recent weeks, the international federations had already taken up the issue in dispersed order: last Thursday, that of athletics confirmed the exclusion “in the near future” of athletes from both countries, even though its qualifying events for the next Games have begun.
Conversely, fencing became on March 10 the first Olympic sport to reinstate them from April – the start of its qualification period – “subject to possible future recommendations/decisions of the IOC”.
However, the first reactions illustrated the extent of the difficulties to be overcome: last Thursday, the German Fencing Federation thus gave up the organization of the Women’s Foil World Cup stage scheduled for early May in Tauberbischofsheim, judging that ‘there were “too many open questions” about the reinstatement of disqualified shooters.
A few days later, the Ukrainian Federation of the discipline announced that it would boycott any competition in which Russian and Belarusian athletes were engaged. A threat that hovers more than ever over the 2024 Olympics.