Russians, Belarusians to compete as ‘neutrals’ at 2024 Paris Olympics: IOC

The athletes had initially been banned from competing internationally following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has given the green light to the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the games next year as neutrals, drawing the ire of Ukrainian officials.

Russian and Belarusian athletes who qualify in their sport for the Paris 2024 Olympics will be able to take part without flags, emblems or anthems, outside of team events and as long as they do not actively support the war in Ukraine, the IOC said on Friday.

“The IOC essentially gave Russia the green light to weaponize the Olympics,” Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a social media post condemning the decision.

“Because the Kremlin will use every Russian and Belarusian athlete as a weapon in its propaganda warfare. I urge all partners to strongly condemn this shameful decision, which undermines Olympic principles,” he added.

The athletes had initially been banned from competing internationally following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but have since been gradually allowed back as neutral athletes in most sport.

The IOC said eight Russians and three Belarusians are among 4,600 athletes worldwide who have so far qualified for the Summer Games, which open in July.

They will only be allowed to compete in individual sports and no teams for the two countries will be allowed to participate in Paris. The IOC has also said that no state or government official from Russia or Belarus will be invited to or accredited for Paris 2024, but argue that athletes should not be held accountable for the actions of their governments.

Russia’s Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin called the move “discriminatory”.

More than 60 Ukrainian athletes have qualified for next year’s Paris Olympics. A total of about 11,000 athletes will take part in the games next year.

Athletes and officials from Ukraine, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, have repeatedly urged the IOC to exclude Russia and Belarus entirely.

However, representatives of international sports federations and national Olympic committees had called for Russian and Belarusian athletes to be admitted under a neutral flag “as soon as possible”.

Ukraine’s Sport Minister Matviy Bidnyi told the AFP news agency in advance of the decision on Thursday that Kyiv was concerned the move gave the impression that the IOC “does not want to demonstrate the necessary leadership in the matter of Olympic fairness and justice”.

“As aptly stated by President Volodymyr Zelensky: ‘Obviously, any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood,’” said Bidnyi.

“When there is a war and one nation with its passports is destroying another nation, then ‘neutrality’ becomes irresponsibility,” he said, adding that giving up their Russian passport was “the only possible way today for an athlete to prove Olympic excellence is his first priority”.

Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the IOC of using the games as a form of “ethnic discrimination”.

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