The president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has slammed European governments’ reaction to a plan to reinstate Russian and Belarusian athletes to international sport despite a ban over the invasion of Ukraine.
“It is deplorable to see that some governments do not want to respect the majority within the Olympic movement and all stakeholders, nor the autonomy of sport,” Thomas Bach told a news conference at the end of an executive board meeting on Thursday.
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Governments in Ukraine, Poland, the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic, among others, have been angered by the IOC’s plan for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete again, saying they have no place in world sport with the war still ongoing.
Germany’s Olympic Committee is also opposed any Russian return to sport.
The IOC on Tuesday issued a set of recommendations to individual Olympic sport bodies, by which they could decide to approve individual Russian or Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes, while continuing a ban from team sports.
This does not include the 2024 Olympics in Paris. A separate decision on that will be taken at a later date.
Athletes from Russia and Belarus, Moscow’s ally, were banned from most international competitions last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”.
The Lausanne-based IOC’s latest guidelines to allow for their return to world sport cite human rights concerns for Russian athletes and the current participation of Russians and Belarusians in some sports as reasons for the decision.
“It is deplorable that these governments do not address the question of double standards. We have not seen a single comment on their attitude on the participation of athletes from countries of the other 70 wars and armed conflict around the world,” Bach said.
Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian Presidential Office and the chief of staff to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said in a statement that “Russians kill Ukrainian citizens every day.”
“Hundreds of Ukrainian athletes die defending their country from the aggressor. However, the IOC prefers not to notice this,” he said. “This is not fair. Injustice destroys the spirit of the Olympic movement in the same way that Russia destroys international law.”
The IOC plan foresees sports federations providing access for Russians and Belarusians at Asian events and Olympic qualifiers, instead of them having to compete in Europe which is not possible at present.
The Olympic Council of Asia’s athletes committee on Thursday fully backed the IOC recommendations, asking only for fairness for Asian competitors in any qualification pathway.
Bach said it was now up to each sport federation to take the next steps and it would be best for governments not to involve themselves with how sport is run.
“It cannot be up to the governments to decide which athletes can participate in which competition,” he said. “This would be the end of world sport as we know it today.”