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IOC wins as top Western nations agree to Russians in Paris

April 9, 2024

Britain has reluctantly accepted the International Olympic Committee's plan for Russian athletes at the Paris Games. Those with no military background and who do not openly support the Ukraine war can compete.

A Russian flag and Olympic logo in Sochi, 2014
The Russian flag is banned at Paris 2024, but some Russian athletes can competeImage: David J. Phillip/AP Photo/picture alliance

The British government has joined France, Germany and the United States in accepting the International Olympic Committee's plan for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in the Paris Olympics in July and August. 

Despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee have decided that athletes from the two countries can take part in the Games as neutrals if they have not publicly supported the invasion of Ukraine and are not linked to the military.

Britain's Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Lucy Frazer said last year that "any plans" to allow Russians and Belarusians to participate in Paris were "not credible," suggesting the UK government favored a blanket ban.

Now it has changed its tune, writing to the IOC and IPC presidents to say it will back their stance.

A British government spokesman denied there had been a U-turn but specified: "Russian and Belarusian athletes representing their country should not be permitted in domestic or international sporting competition. That position still stands."

The nuance there is that as neutrals, Russians will not be representing their country at the Games, with no flags, anthems or national uniforms. They will also not be participating in the parade of nations at the opening ceremony.

German Interior and Sports Minister Nancy Faeser speaking at a press conference
German Interior and Sports Minister Nancy Faeser is keeping a close eye on Russia and the IOCImage: Britta Pedersen/dpa/picture alliance

The British government has now fallen into line with comparable Olympic nations. The United States has long backed the IOC position, even before it was officially agreed in December. Germany has also accepted the rules.

"German Minister of the Interior and Minister of Sport Nancy Faeser is sticking to her position that only Russian and Belarusian athletes who are demonstrably not connected to state structures in Russia and Belarus should be admitted," a ministry spokeswoman told DW.

"The Ministry of the Interior supports France here, whose President Macron, as host of the upcoming 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, recently declared Russian and Belarusian flags to be unwelcome at the Games in Paris and that Russia and Belarus have no place at the Games in view of the war crimes committed."

France, as host nation, has to toe the IOC line, although Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo broke ranks last month when she told Ukrainian YouTube channel United News: "I want to tell the Russian and Belarusian athletes that they are not welcome in Paris. I would also like to tell the Ukrainian athletes and all the Ukrainian people that we support them very much."

A Ukrainian boycott of the Games if Russians compete has long been floated, but that stance now appears to have softened. Instead, the head of the country's Olympic committee has issued guidance saying Ukrainian athletes in Paris should not stand next to Russians or shake their hands. Ukrainian activists have been busy trying to expose athletes who support the war or Russian military.

Russia and Belarus have not ruled out preventing their own athletes from competing, but the chance to win medals even as neutrals is set to prove too tempting for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.   

Edited by: Jonathan Crane