Under pressure, the IOC discusses a reintegration of Russians and Belarusians

Until when can the Olympic body procrastinate, which announced last December “explore ways” to bring the banished back into the fold of world sport, after having recommended their exclusion at the end of February 2022 due to the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army?

Officially, the IOC Executive Board, which will hold a press briefing at 4:00 p.m., simply plans to “review the conclusions and reactions recorded after several telephone consultations” with its own members, National Olympic Committees (NOCs), International Federations (IFs) and athlete representations.

Of the three items on the agenda, two are beyond doubt: the “sanctions against Russia and Belarus”that is to say the prohibition of the official symbols of the two countries as well as international competitions on their soil, will be reaffirmed, as will the “solidarity” -particularly financial- with Ukrainian athletes.

Under neutral banner

The suspense relates to the possible lifting of the “protective measures” with regard to the sportsmen of the two countries, that is to say their exclusion from most competitions because – according to the argument of the IOC – of the hostility aroused by their presence and the threat it poses to the smooth running of the events.

For the Olympic organization, this banishment cannot go on forever: “no athlete should be banned from competition solely on the basis of their passport”has been hammering the IOC for several months, relying among other things on the opinion of two United Nations experts.

The Lausanne-based body has therefore marked out the way back in January: as long as they do not have “not actively supported the war in Ukraine”a criterion that promises to be difficult to assess, Russians and Belarusians could once again compete “under neutral banner”.

But when? The IOC, which intends to consult the Olympic world as long as necessary, has given no deadline, and also affirms that the international federations (IFs) remain the “only authorities” governing their trials.

Except that the Olympic organization had been able to decide without ambiguity when it came to excluding the Russians and Belarusians last year, and that with less than 500 days from the Paris Olympics, everyone is waiting to know if they will be able to participate.

Boycott threats

Left in the dark, the international federations are taking up the issue in scattered order: last Thursday, that of athletics confirmed the exclusion “in the near future” of athletes from the two countries, even though its qualifying events for the next Games have started.

Conversely, fencing became on March 10 the first Olympic sport to reintegrate them from April – the start of its qualification period – “subject to possible future recommendations/decisions of the IOC”.

However, the first reactions illustrated the extent of the difficulties to be overcome before sending Russians and Belarusians to the 2024 Olympics, while around thirty countries – including France, Great Britain, the United States and Canada – asked the IOC for “clarifications” on this subject.

Last Thursday, the German Fencing Federation thus gave up the organization of the Women’s Foil World Cup stage scheduled for early May in Tauberbischofsheim, judging that there was still “too many open questions” on the reinstatement of excluded shooters.

A few days later, the Ukrainian Federation of the discipline announced that it would boycott any competition in which Russian and Belarusian athletes would be engaged, a threat which already hovers over the 2024 Olympics from Ukraine as from Poland and the Baltic countries.


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