Paris 2024: Russian and Belarusian athletes officially authorized to participate under neutral banner by the IOC

This is undoubtedly the epilogue of a soap opera which began on February 24, 2022 with the attack of Russian forces on Ukraine

Paris 2024: Russian and Belarusian athletes officially authorized to participate under neutral banner by the IOC

This is undoubtedly the epilogue of a soap opera which began on February 24, 2022 with the attack of Russian forces on Ukraine. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced, Friday, December 8, in a press release that it is authorizing Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate under a neutral banner in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games (JO) – from July 26 to August 11 –, excluding team events and as long as they did not actively support the Russian invasion.

To date, only eleven “neutral individual athletes” (eight Russians and three Belarusians) have qualified for the Olympics, specifies the IOC, compared to around sixty Ukrainian athletes.

The question is crucial since the fear of seeing a Ukrainian delegation absent or very weakened in Paris has long worried the Olympic body, and would have made the presence of Russian athletes even more politically delicate, even without an anthem or flag.

The position of the Ukrainian government has evolved

After banning Russians and Belarusians from world sport at the end of February 2022, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the IOC therefore reasoned in two stages to organize their return, explaining on numerous occasions that athletes should not “ pay” for their government’s actions.

In March 2023, the Olympic organization first recommended that international federations reinstate the Russians and Belarusians under a neutral banner in their competitions, while postponing its final decision concerning the Paris Games “to an appropriate time”.

The Olympic body took the time to evaluate the progress of the competitions, considered generally satisfactory, and to see the position of the Ukrainian government evolve, which first required its athletes to boycott any event involving Russians before softened its position on July 26 in a new decree.

Furthermore, if the international federations have followed this recommendation in a dispersed manner – athletics, in particular, the queen discipline of the Olympics, still refuses to reinstate the Russians – the 12th Olympic Summit, organized on Tuesday in Lausanne (Lausane), resulted in a clear call from the sporting world to authorize the participation of Russians and Belarusians under neutral status.

Athletes demanded 'swift' decision

Representatives of international federations, the 206 national Olympic committees and athletes then called for a “rapid” decision from the IOC. This came three days later.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) had already authorized, on September 29, Russian and Belarusian para-athletes to participate, also under a neutral banner, in the Paralympic Games, which will be held in Paris, from August 28 to September 8, 2024.

On November 28, in an interview with Le Monde, Matvi Bidny, the new Ukrainian sports minister, however, considered that this neutral status was “irresponsibility”. Mr. Bidny said he expected Moscow to exploit future sporting results from the Paris Olympics. “I guarantee you that if Russian athletes under a neutral banner participate in the Olympic Games, the day after their return to Russia, they will have “Z”s [war rallying symbol] on their shoulders and will be used by this immense machine of propaganda. »