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by Mick the Ram
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has confirmed that Russian and Belarusian athletes who have qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympics, will be allowed to participate as neutrals.
They had of course been banned collectively, following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
There will be eligibility conditions attached to their inclusion, which involves six specifics, including competing without flags, emblems, or anthems of their respective countries. The official line refers to these athletes as individual neutral athletes, or AIN’s.
It is understood that of the 4,600 athletes who have so far qualified for next summer’s Games, only 11 fall into the category of being AIN’s – eight with a Russian passport and three with a Belarusian passport.
The IOC also said athletes and support personnel who actively back the war in Ukraine will remain excluded.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has on more than one occasion called for the expulsion of both Russia and Belarus entirely from the Olympics, saying it was “obvious that any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood”.
World Athletics not backing decision
The controversial green light was given essentially because the IOC felt that by letting individuals take part was about “respecting human rights”. Nevertheless, World Athletics said its own position remains unchanged, with athletes, support personnel and officials from Russia and Belarus remaining excluded “from all World Athletics Series events”.
Their president, Sebastian Coe made his organisations position absolutely clear when he spoke at their Council Meeting being held Monaco. “You may well see some neutral athletes from Russia and Belarus in Paris, it just won’t be in athletics,” was his direct response to hearing the news.
Continuing, he said: “We have a fixed position, so I think it is right that International Federations should make judgements that they feel is in the best interest of their sport and that is what our council has done.”
IOC believe fellow athletes will be supportive of decision
From the IOC point of view, they said that among its considerations in reaching the decision, they believed that an “overwhelming majority of athletes” did not want to “punish fellow athletes for the actions of their government”.
Six conditions to adhere to
They feel that their six strict “eligibility conditions” will be able to override any ill-feeling. These include competing as an AIN, or in other words as an individual and not as a team. There must also be no current or indeed previous support of the on-going war in Ukraine, including anyone contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies.
Displaying any flag, colours, anthem or any other form of identification of either Russia or Belarus will not be permitted. Additionally, any AIN athlete – just as any other participating athlete – must meet all anti-doping requirements.
The IOC has also said that no state or government official from those two countries will be invited to or accredited for, Paris 2024.
Ukraine ministers call for condemnation
The decision has drawn an angry reaction from Ukraine officials, with their foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba posting on social media: “Because the Kremlin will use every Russian and Belarusian athlete as a weapon in its propaganda warfare, I urge all partners to strongly condemn this shameful decision, which undermines Olympic principles.”
The sports minister Matviy Bidnyi added: “When there is a war and one nation with its passports is destroying another nation, then ‘neutrality’ becomes irresponsibility; so the only possible way today for an athlete to prove Olympic excellence is his first priority”.
Putin still to be in Russian control
Earlier this year, Vladimir Putin accused the IOC of using the games as a form of “ethnic discrimination”. It came as no surprise to anyone when the Russian President announced ahead of the IOC decision that he would be running for a fifth term of office – which he is almost certain to win – with voting due to take place on 17 March 2024, just over four months before the Games begin.