Olympics: US backs Russians competing as neutrals at Paris 2024

The IOC’s willingness to allow Russian and Belarussian athletes in Paris has divided the sporting and diplomatic world. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON – The United States will support moves to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part at the 2024 Paris Olympics as neutral athletes, provided they are prevented from displaying their national flags or emblems, the White House said.

“The United States has supported suspending Russia and Belarus’ sport national governing bodies from international sports federations,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Thursday.

However, if athletes are invited to an international event, such as the Olympics, she said “it should be absolutely clear that they are not representing the Russian or Belarusian states”.

“The use of official state Russian, Belarusian flags, emblems and anthems should be prohibited as well.”

The US position adds to a growing debate over the status of athletes from Russia and Belarus at the 2024 Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said it is examining a “pathway” for Russians to take part in the Games, probably as neutral athletes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky staunchly opposes any participation by Russian and Belarusian athletes at the July 26-Aug 11 Games in 2024, and has asked the IOC as well as the French government to ban Russia over its invasion of his country since last February.

Russia, on the other hand, is pushing for all restrictions to be lifted, arguing that the Olympics should not be politicised.

Writing on Twitter shortly after the White House remarks on Thursday, Mr Zelensky described the IOC’s stance as a “legitimisation of the criminal aggression against Ukraine”.

“We won’t allow sport to be used against humanity & for war propaganda!”

The IOC’s move has divided the sporting and diplomatic world.

On Wednesday, two United Nations rights experts applauded the IOC decision, arguing that no athlete should be “discriminated against on the basis of their nationality”.

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has also backed the plan.

In a conference call in December, USOPC chairman Susanne Lyons warned that the “fabric” of the Olympic movement was at risk if athletes were not given the chance to compete as neutrals.

US Olympic officials are adamant, however, that these athletes would participate only in “strictly neutral” uniforms.

Similar words of support have come from the Olympic Council of Asia and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

But Britain, Poland and the Baltic nations have all condemned the IOC’s position.

Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said on Twitter that allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes at the Olympics was “immoral and wrong”.

British culture secretary Michelle Donelan said the IOC’s plan was “a world away from the reality of war being felt by the Ukrainian people”.

“We, and many other countries, have been unequivocal on this throughout, and we will now work urgently across like-minded countries to ensure that solidarity continues on this issue,” she said.

Poland, for one, believes it will be possible to build a coalition of some 40 countries, supporting the call to block Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2024 Olympics, its Sport and Tourism Minister Kamil Bortniczuk told Reuters on Thursday.

“If we were to boycott the Games, the coalition we will be a part of will be broad enough to make holding the Games pointless,” he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.