The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had been summoned for several weeks to clarify its position on the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to the concert of world sport. On Tuesday 28 March, at the end of the first day of its Executive Board meeting, the IOC reiterated the recommendation it had made at the end of January to reinstate athletes from both countries, under neutral banners and provided that they have not actively supported the war in Ukraine.
The body based in Lausanne (Switzerland), on the other hand, has not taken any position on their possible participation in the Olympic and Paralympic Games (JOP) of Paris 2024 - and those of winter in Milan-Cortina (Italy) in 2026 -, postponing "to an appropriate date" the moment of this decision, when the qualifying events for the JOP have already started in many Olympic disciplines.
After four months of consultations with the National Olympic Committees, the International Federations (IFs) and the representatives of the athletes, the IOC reaffirmed on Tuesday, unanimously by the members of the Executive Board, its desire to allow the IFs and the organizers of sports competitions the responsibility of admitting or not Russian and Belarusian sportsmen.
The boss of world sport has also issued a series of six recommendations - a kind of instruction manual - which aims to "harmonize the rules" between international federations, as specified by Thomas Bach, the German president. of the IOC.
Russian and Belarusian athletes can thus only return to sports competitions as individuals and under a neutral banner; national teams from these two countries cannot be admitted; nor can the athletes who support – actively or not – the war in Ukraine; nor those under contract with the military or security services; any "neutral" Russian and Belarusian athletes cleared to compete must also meet World Anti-Doping Agency requirements; finally, the flags, anthems or national symbols of the two countries remain banned from international sports competitions which cannot be organized on the territory of Russia and Belarus – competitions for which officials from the two countries cannot be invited or accredited.
"A day of shame for the IOC"
While boycott threats are becoming more and more heavy on the JOP in Paris – Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic countries say they are ready to do so in the event of a Russian presence – Thomas Bach insisted on the fact that the Olympic Committee would decide on the participation of Russians and Belarusians in the 2024 Games, after monitoring the application of its recommendations over the next few weeks, "at the appropriate time, in its sole discretion, and without being bound by the results of the events Olympic qualification".
The IOC's recommendations did not fail to provoke strong reactions Tuesday in the Western camp. The German Interior Minister thus speaks of "a slap in the face to Ukrainian athletes". “International sport must condemn Russia's brutal war of aggression in clear terms. This can only be done by completely excluding Russian and Belarusian athletes,” Nancy Faeser tweeted. Same anger in Poland, where the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Piotr Wawrzyk, did not hesitate in a tweet to speak of "a day of shame" for the International Olympic Committee.
Researcher at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations Lukas Aubin believes that the IOC's decision is not a victory for Vladimir Putin - the Russian Olympic Committee indeed denounces "discriminatory" reinstatement criteria. "But it's as if Putin has put his foot in the door," he explains. This leaves open the possibility of future discussions. »
According to the specialist in Slavic studies, the body is at an impasse. “There are only two potential ways out of the crisis: either the reintegration of Russians and Belarusians, but here the IOC alienates Ukraine and part of the Western camp; or their exclusion, at the risk for the IOC of alienating a large part of the non-Western camp, in particular African and Asian [whose regional Olympic committees have recently declared themselves in favor of reinstatement]. »
Isolated on the international scene after the invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Russia has today "reconstituted a form of bloc", notes Lukas Aubin, which allows it to assert its interests. "His anti-Western rhetoric seems to be working," says the researcher.