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Russians may compete as neutral athletes, IOC says

March 28, 2023

The International Olympic Committee said they recommend allowing Russian athletes to compete as individuals in international games — and a decision for their return to 2024 Olympics would be taken at a later date.

Olympic rings before the Eiffel Tower
A decision to allow Russian athletes to sporting events like the Olympics remains pendingImage: Michel Euler/AP Photo/picture alliance

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended Tuesday that Russian athletes compete as individuals in international sporting events.

The IOC issued a set of recommendations, saying that those "with a Russian or a Belarusian passport must compete only as Individual Neutral Athletes." This means that athletes can compete as individuals without a national flag or under a "neutral" flag.

It advised sporting bodies against considering teams "of athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport."

The organization clarified its recommendation to the governing bodies of Olympic sports "do not concern" the 2024 Paris Olympics  — which run between July and August next year — saying that decision would be taken at a later date.

The IOC discusses whether Russian athletes can return to international sports at an executive board meeting on Tuesday
The IOC discuss whether Russian athletes can return to international sports at an executive board meeting on TuesdayImage: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

It added "athletes who are contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies" should also not be considered.

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.

A separate decision for 2024 Olympics

Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC, told a news conference that the organization's recommendations concern only the return of athletes to international competitions, but not the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

"Sports organizations must have the sole responsibility to decide which athletes can take part in international competitions based on their sporting merits and not on political grounds or because of their passports," Bach told a news conference after the meeting. 

The IOC reiterated its condemnation of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, saying the invasion amounted to a "blatant violation of the Olympic Truce that was in effect at the time, and the Olympic Charter."

For those reasons, the IOC sanctioned Russian and Belarusian states and governments and banned international sports from being organized in either of those countries. It said no flag, anthems or other national symbols could be displayed "whatsoever." 

The governments of at least 34 countries, including France, published a statement in February calling upon the IOC to exclude Russian and Belarus from Paris 2024 Olympics, noting the links between sports and the military in Russia and Belarus.

German government says recommendations a 'slap in the face' for Ukrainian atheletes

The German government said the IOC's recommendation was a "slap in the face" for Ukrainian athletes.

"They have earned the solidarity of the international sports community," Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in a statement. "There is no reason whatsoever for Russia's return to world sporting events."

"Whoever lets warmongering Russia use international sports competitions for its propaganda harms the Olympic ideal of peace and international understanding," she added.

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk slammed the recommendations as well, tweeting: "What positive things has Russia done for their athletes to now take part in competitions!! After Bucha, Irpin, Hostomel!! After the daily bombings of civilian sites!! It's a day of shame for the IOC!!" 

rm/jcg (AFP, AP)