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Participation by Russian athletes ‘works’: IOC’s Bach

The Olympic movement delayed a decision on allowing Russians and Belarusians at Paris 2024 but the body’s president said their participation in sport ‘works’.

March 29, 2023
29 March 2023

The International Olympic Committee has issued recommendations for the gradual return to international competitions for Russian and Belarusian athletes, with president Thomas Bach saying their participation “works” despite the ongoing war in Ukraine.

The IOC had sanctioned Russia and Belarus after the February 2022 invasion but it is now eager to see athletes come back across all sports and have a chance to qualify for the 2024 Olympics, though a decision on actual participation in Paris was delayed.

Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Paris Games should they compete there, even as neutrals.

“Participation of athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports in international competitions works,” Bach said in his address at the start of the IOC’s executive board meeting at its headquarters in Lausanne on Tuesday.

“We see this almost every day in a number of sports, most prominently in tennis but also in cycling, in some table tennis competitions.”

“We see it ice hockey, handball we see it in football and in other leagues in the United States but also in Europe and we also see it in other continents,” he said. “In none of these competition security incidents have been happening.”

Russians and Belarusians have been competing as neutrals in some sports but their presence at some events, such as tennis tournaments, has triggered angry reactions from some other athletes.

Bach said the recommendations for events organisers and sports federations to follow include Russian and Belarusian athletes can only compete as neutrals, with no flag or anthem.

They cannot take part in team events and have to have a proven drugs testing record.

Athletes who support the war or are contracted to their countries’ military or national security agency cannot take part.

These recommendations, however, do not include the Paris 2024 Olympics and the potential participation of Russia and Belarus, Bach said.

“The IOC expressly reserves the right to decide on their participation at the appropriate time,” said Bach, without clarifying when that would be.

Earlier on Tuesday more than 300 fencers wrote to Bach to ask the IOC to reconsider allowing them back, calling it a “catastrophic error” should Russia and Belarus return.

Bach said politics could not be a part of sports competitions and athletes should not be punished for their passports.

“We will not be able to come up with a solution which pleases everyone. With this we may have to live.” 

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