The board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made a policy on Tuesday, with which it transferred responsibility for the competition rights of Russians and Belarusians to international federations.
The decision did not come as a surprise, as the IOC had already said in January that it was investigating the possibilities for the return of Russians and Belarusians. At that time, among other things, the participation of these athletes in the qualifiers for the Paris Olympics in Asia was on display.
After that announcement by the IOC, discussions began about a possible boycott front for the Paris Games. Chairman of the IOC Thomas Bach on the other hand, considered boycott speeches against the principles of the Olympic movement.
Now, with the IOC’s latest policy, sports federations can therefore restore the competition rights of individual Russian and Belarusian athletes with certain marginal conditions.
The biggest sports federations in athletics have already decided that the competition rights of Russians and Belarusians will not be restored. A Finnish member sits on the board of the International Association of Athletics Federations (WA, World Athletics). Antti Pihlakoskiwho says that the IOC’s new policy does not affect athletics in any way.
– We firmly believe that Russia and Belarus are not welcome in athletics activities when the war is going on.
Pihlakoski is disappointed with the IOC’s new policy.
– It is a dirty decision in the sense that it leaves the decision-making to the international sports federations.
“An impossible situation for many sports associations”
The IOC therefore recommended new marginal conditions, within the limits of which international sports federations can admit Russians and Belarusians to sports.
Teams from Russia and Belarus are not accepted, and the IOC did not discuss the Paris 2024 Olympics or the Milan and Cortina 2026 Winter Games at its meeting.
Competition rights cannot be returned to athletes who support the war, nor to athletes working in the defense forces of Russia or Belarus or in the service of the security authorities. National flags, national anthems and other national emblems are prohibited at sporting events and in the stands of games.
Pihlakoski also finds a positive side in these boundary conditions.
– There is such a positive possibility that Russia states that we will not participate in sports activities under these conditions. Then, as it were, the decision will be transferred to Russia. If Russia decides that they will not participate, it is probably the easiest for all parties involved.
– On the other hand, such stipulations make it very difficult for many international sports federations.
So how do the federations look at whether a Russian athlete is fit to compete? CEO of the Finnish Olympic Committee Taina Susiluoto said that the IOC’s policy aimed to ensure that there would be no abuses.
Let’s take a hypothetical example. The Russian athlete has shared statements supporting the war on social media, but deleted them. Then the fellow competitor has a screenshot of this, with which he “proves” that the athlete in question supported the war.
– This is a pretty impossible situation for many small sports associations, when there aren’t even enough resources to deal with it. The IOC did not make a decision on behalf of the international sports, but rather left the matter hanging, says Pihlakoski.
Russians for the Olympics or not?
The IOC said it would review the situation for the 2024 and 2026 Olympic Games later. This year, the qualifiers for the Paris Olympics begin in many sports. Is it the case that in some sports Russians and Belarusians have a chance to get to the Olympics, and in some they don’t?
– The IOC wants to keep the gates open for Russians and Belarusians, and let the sports decide whether they will allow the athletes to participate in the qualifiers, Pihlakoski interpreted.
This is also why Pihlakoski considers the IOC’s decision to be out of order. The sports field is fragmented in this regard as well.
– Clarity is good. This is an unclear situation for many, it causes inequality between sports and athletes.
– I can also imagine that in Russia – if this decision goes by – dividing athletes into goats and sheep is not very simple. This causes its own diaspora within Russia.
According to Pihlakoski, that could lead to Russia not wanting to participate with these rules. The qualifying system creates pressure that the matter must be clarified quickly.
Chairman of the Finnish Olympic Committee Jan Vapaavuori was afraid of the same mess even before the IOC’s latest policy.
– One threat is that this will result in a very confusing and inconsistent outcome, where different international sports federations align the matter differently. At worst, a situation could arise where in some sports it is possible that the door will be opened for Russians and Belarusians, but not in other sports, Vapaavuori told STT.
There have already been statements from Russia. Chairman of the Russian Olympic Committee Stanislav Pozdnyakov described the recommendations announced by the IOC on Tuesday as a farce. According to him, the recommendation would divide Russians into approved athletes and others.
– We believe that this condition creates an internal conflict in Russian sports, summarized Pozdnjakov according to insidethegames (you are going to another service) and regretted that the IOC’s recommendations do not facilitate the return of Russian athletes.
The International Boxing Association IBA already gave up the ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes in the fall. The International Fencing Federation FIE decided earlier in March on the Russians’ entry to the international games and thus to the Olympic qualifiers.