The dispute over a possible return of Russian and Belarusian athletes under a neutral flag threatens to escalate around 18 months before the Summer Olympics in Paris. The IOC condemns Ukraine, the US stands behind the athletes, while resistance in Eastern Europe grows.
The US is also backing the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) controversial plans to reintegrate Russian and Belarusian athletes into world sport. Athletes from the two countries should be allowed to compete in the Olympics, but not under their flag. This was announced by the White House. If athletes are invited to an international event like the Olympics, "it should be absolutely clear that they do not represent the Russian or Belarusian states," press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.
In a statement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy avoided direct criticism of the positioning of his important military ally in Washington. Instead, Zelenskyi emphasized his rejection of this stance by describing the IOC's efforts as "legitimating criminal aggression against Ukraine". Zelenskyj also reiterated in his Twitter statement shortly after Jean-Pierre's statement that "we will not allow sport to be misused against humanity and for war propaganda".
Most recently, the United Nations (UN) had officially pledged their support to the International Olympic Committee. In a statement, two UN experts expressly praised the considerations regarding the admission of neutral athletes. IOC President Thomas Bach had recently shown himself open to such a model, also referring to the human rights requirements of the Olympic Charter and the United Nations. Especially with a view to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, the statements met with a lot of contradiction. Ukraine, which has been suffering from Russia's war of aggression for almost a year, has already threatened to boycott the summer games.
Meanwhile, the IOC has condemned the threat to boycott Ukraine. The threat violates the fundamentals of the Olympic Movement and the principles it stands for. "It is extremely unfortunate to escalate this discussion at this early stage with a boycott threat," the IOC said. The participation of individual neutral athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport in the Olympic Games in Paris 2024 has not yet been discussed and decided, it said.
"A boycott is a violation of the Olympic Charter, which obliges all NOCs to participate in the Games of the Olympiad by sending athletes," the statement said. As history has shown, previous boycotts have not achieved their political goals and have only served to punish the athletes of the boycotting National Olympic Committees (NOC).
However, despite the US announcement, opposition to the reintegration plans continues to mount. Poland's Sports Minister Kamil Bortniczuk promptly announced that more than three dozen countries would take a clear stance against the IOC's efforts. "I think that in the coming week 40 countries will take a very firm and very clear stance against Russians and Belarusians starting at the Olympics," Bortniczuk said on Polish state television when announcing a video conference of sports ministers from numerous nations on February 10.
In his statement, the member of the Polish government assumed that the United States, along with the members of the European Union (EU) and Great Britain, would also oppose the IOC. According to the current statements, at least the support of the USA is not to be expected.
Bortniczuk had already made initial progress in establishing an international alliance against the IOC project and thus against the participation of Russians and Belarusians in the Olympic competitions and also the previous elimination competitions before his TV appearance. Bortniczuk and his colleagues from the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania disapproved of the IOC's strategy.