“No reason to reconsider the exclusion of athletes”: countries oppose the participation of Russians in the 2024 Olympics

The governments of around 30 countries have decided to publish a letter on Monday asking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to clarify its definition of “neutrality”. The organization is currently studying several ways to reintegrate Russia and Belarus into the international sporting scene ahead of the Paris Summer Olympics in 2024.

“We are very concerned about the feasibility for Russian and Belarusian Olympic athletes to participate as ‘neutrals’ (…) while they are financed and supported by their States”, explains this letter obtained by AFP, fruit of a conference held on February 11 between sports ministers from some thirty countries.

“Lack of clarity”

“We firmly believe, given that the situation has not changed regarding Russia’s aggression in Ukraine (…), that there is no reason to reverse the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes decided by the IOC”, explains the mail of the coalition.

“Until these fundamental topics, as well as the cruel lack of clarity and concrete details on the definition of +neutrality+ are not addressed, we do not accept that Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to return to competition”, they claim. “We urge the IOC to address these issues targeted by all countries and reconsider its proposal accordingly,” the signatories add.

The IOC in favor of a neutral banner?

France, Great Britain, Sweden, Poland but also the United States and Canada were present at the conference on February 11, during which Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky spoke. He had notably tried to convince the ministers by considering that the presence of Russian sportsmen at the Paris Games would be “a sign of violence and impunity”.

Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from most international competitions since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, with international federations following the IOC’s “recommendation”. But the IOC has qualified since its position and at the end of January proposed a roadmap to organize the return of these athletes under a neutral flag, provided that they had “not actively supported the war in Ukraine”.

“No athlete should be banned from competition on the sole basis of his passport,” assured the executive of the Olympic body. Kyiv immediately threatened a boycott over the proposal, accusing the IOC of being “a promoter of war, murder and destruction”. Since then, a front has been organized in support of kyiv, even if only a handful of states are considering a boycott, such as Estonia and Poland.

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