Olympics: IOC says it will explore pathway for return of Russia, Belarus athletes

The IOC is eager to include Russian and Belarusian athletes as neutrals at the Paris Games, which would mean competing under the Olympic flag. PHOTO: REUTERS

LAUSANNE – The International Olympic Committee (IOC), ignoring calls from Ukraine to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2024 Paris Olympics, said that a pathway for their athletes’ participation should be “further explored”.

While most international federations followed the IOC’s recommendation last February to ban both countries’ athletes after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the question is already being asked over their participation at the next Olympic Games.

The IOC had previously described the issue as a “big dilemma” that had been politicised by individual governments intervening to block them.

“No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport,” the IOC said in a press release on Wednesday.

“A pathway for athletes’ participation in competition under strict conditions should therefore be further explored.”

The “strict conditions” would include no active support of the war in Ukraine and strict drug testing.

In recent Olympics, after a state-sponsored system of doping was uncovered, Russia was barred from participating as a nation but individual athletes have competed.

The IOC also said that “the vast majority of the participants in each of the consultation calls with Olympic stakeholders” supported it exploring the eventual reintegration of athletes from Russia and Belarus.

In addition, the IOC “welcomed and appreciated the offer from the Olympic Council of Asia to give these athletes access to Asian competitions”.

That could potentially also include Olympic qualifying events, with Russian and Belarusian athletes unable to compete in Europe due to restrictions and bans.

The IOC is eager to include athletes from the two countries as neutrals at the Paris Games, which would mean competing under the Olympic flag, but it is still unclear if and how they could qualify.

Some national Olympic committees, including Olympic heavyweights United States, have backed the possible return of those athletes under a neutral flag.

Qualifiers for the Paris Olympics in some sports have started, with many more taking place throughout the year.

A total of 32 sports are on the programme for 2024, with around 10,500 athletes set to qualify through hundreds of continental and international competitions.

While the hype for the Games is gradually building, there are people who cannot afford to attend the global showpiece and Paris organisers are asking ticket buyers to donate €2 (S$2.87) per purchase to help them.

“It’s the same principle as the ‘pending coffee’,” said French entrepreneur and Paris 2024 board member Alexandre Mars.

This idea comes from Naples, Italy, where a customer pays for a coffee in advance as an anonymous act of solidarity – effectively buying two cups but receiving only one.

“It has never been done before on such a big scale,” Mars added.

Every donation, which is optional, will go to the Secours Populaire, a non-profit association fighting against poverty and exclusion in France and throughout the world and be converted into tickets for the Olympics and Paralympics.

Sales of some 10 million tickets for the Paris Games will start from Feb 15, with the cheapest costing €24. AFP, REUTERS, NYTIMES

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