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Could Russian, Belarusian athletes compete at Paris Games?

Andreas Sten-Ziemons | Chuck Penfold
January 26, 2023

Some Russian and Belarusian athletes may be a step closer to being allowed to return to international competition. An IOC proposal has been sharply criticized by Ukraine and athletes' representatives.

A crowd of people stand in front of a large screen showing Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024
Paris will host the next Olympics in 2024Image: Benoit Tessier/REUTERS

The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) announced on Thursday that it could allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to take part in the Asian Games, which also act as Olympic qualifiers, meaning it could be a step toward them being allowed to compete at the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.

"The OCA believes in the unifying power of sport and that all athletes, regardless of their nationality or the passport they hold, should be able to compete in sports competitions," the OCA said in a statement.

"The OCA has offered to give eligible Russian and Belarusian athletes the opportunity to take part in competitions in Asia, including the Asian Games."

The 2022 Asian Games, which were postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are to be hosted by Hangzhou, China in September and October. 

The OCA announcement comes a day after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced it had secured broad support from athletes' representatives, sports federations, and national Olympic committees for a proposal to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes return to competition under "strict conditions."

To be eligible, athletes from Russia and Belarus would have to demonstrate a "clear commitment" to the Olympic Charter and may not have "violated the IOC's peace mission by actively supporting the war in Ukraine." The flag, anthem, colors or other identifying marks of Russia or Belarus would remain banned, meaning the athletes would compete under a neutral flag. Government or state officials from both countries would not be eligible to attend or be accredited for the events in question.

Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in last February, many sports bodies have moved events and suspended Russian teams and Belarusian teams and athletes, while sponsors have cancelled contracts in protest against the war.

'Condoning Russia's brutal war'

However, while the IOC touted broad support for the proposal, that support is far from unanimous. In a joint statement released prior to Thursday's official announcement by the OCA, the advocacy groups Ukrainian Athletes and Global Athlete issued a joint statement condemning the move.

It said the decision "sends a message to the world that the IOC condones Russia's brutal war and invasion of Ukraine. By allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete, the IOC is strengthening Russia's propaganda machine, empowering the Putin regime, and undermining peace."

'Russia a terrorist state'

Ukrainian European high jump champion and Olympic bronze medalist Yaroslava Mahuchikh recently told DW that "Ukrainian athletes and Ukrainian sportsmen will do everything possible so that Belarusian and Russian athletes don't compete internationally because Russia is a terrorist state." 

Yaroslava Mahuchikh holds up a Ukrainian flag
Yaroslava Mahuchikh won gold at the European Championships in Munich last AugustImage: Tom Weller/24 passion/DeFodi Images/picture alliance

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used a meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach last month to call for the exclusion of all Russian athletes from the 2024 Summer Olympics.

He reiterated the demand in a conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this week.

In their latest statements, both the IOC and the OCA expressed their solidarity with Ukraine.

Invasions in aftermath of Winter Games

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, just three days after the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which came in violation of the Olympic Truce, which lasts until after the end of the Paralympic Games.

The IOC responded by recommending that international sporting federations exclude athletes from Russia and Belarus. Russia had already annexed Ukraine's Crimea shortly after the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Edited by: Matt Ford