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Despite Zelensky’s protest, IOC seeks to allow Russian athletes in Olympics

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The International Olympic Committee on Wednesday reaffirmed plans to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete at the 2024 Paris Olympics, despite protests by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The IOC in a statement reiterated its stance that “no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport,” adding that “a pathway for athletes’ participation in competition under strict conditions should therefore be further explored.”

The IOC statement, which followed an executive board meeting, came a day after Zelensky said Russian athletes should be excluded from the Paris Olympics. After speaking with French President Emmanuel Macron, Zelensky on Tuesday wrote on Telegram that he “particularly emphasized that athletes from Russia should have no place at the Olympic Games in Paris” during his talks with Macron.

That contrast comes as the IOC explores ways to loosen its bans on athletes from Russia and Belarus. The idea to allow them to compete was discussed extensively at last month’s IOC’s executive board meeting and Olympic Summit. While no conclusions were reached, the attendees at both gatherings insisted the IOC begin talks with the leaders of all countries’ Olympic committees and individual sports organizations to find what IOC President Thomas Bach called “a pathway back to inclusion.”

Following the Dec. 9 summit, the IOC said it consulted with international federations, national sports governing bodies, IOC members and athlete representatives, and found unanimous support to continue their “commitment to solidarity with the Ukrainian athletes.” But it added that the majority also supported allowing athletes with Russian or Belarusian passports to compete, citing a “commitment to the unifying mission of the Olympic Movement.”

The IOC said those athletes would participate as “neutral” competitors “and in no way represent their state or any other organisation in their country.” Additionally, “only those who have not acted against the peace mission of the IOC by actively supporting the war in Ukraine could compete. Second, only athletes who fully comply with the World Anti-Doping Code and all relevant anti-doping rules and regulations would be eligible.”

The IOC sanctioned Russia and its military ally Belarus days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, barring athletes from both countries from hosting international sports competitions, prohibiting their flags or colors from being displayed at events and urging all Olympic sports organizations to ban their athletes. Russian athletes have not competed under their country’s flag at the Olympics since the 2016 Summer Games, a consequence of the fallout from its state-sponsored doping scandal.

While various leagues and sports organizations banned athletes from both countries after the invasion, some criticized those measures as unfair for punishing athletes instead of their government leaders. In recent months, the IOC has sought to reincorporate those athletes, with Bach saying after an IOC executive board meeting last month, “this question of the participation of athletes is very different from the questions of sanctions for their government.

“The question of athletes’ participation was never part and could not be part of the sanctions because the condition of the Olympic Movement was, always is and remains that athletes [should] not be tarnished for acts of their government as long as they do not contribute to it or support it,” Bach said.

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