IOC's move to reintegrate Russia into Olympics meets opposition
published : 27 Jan 2023 at 00:45
PARIS - The International Olympic Committee's efforts to find a "pathway" for Russians to take part in the 2024 Paris Games despite the invasion of Ukraine were strongly criticised by Britain on Thursday.
Ignoring calls from Ukraine to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from next year's Olympics, the IOC said Wednesday that a way to allow competitors from those countries to take part should be "further explored".
Russia and their allies Belarus have been sidelined from most Olympic sports since the invasion of Ukraine last February.
But the IOC said "no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport".
Hot on the heels of that announcement, the Olympic Council of Asia on Thursday offered Russian and Belarusian athletes the chance to compete in the Asian Games.
That is significant because they could gain qualifying marks in competition in Asia for the Paris Olympics.
The OAC said: "All athletes, regardless of their nationality or the passport they hold, should be able to compete in sports competitions."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is strongly opposed to any moves to reintegrate Russia.
Britain's Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said the IOC's move was a "world away from the reality of war".
"We condemn any action that allows President Putin to legitimise his illegal war in Ukraine," Donelan said.
"This position from the IOC is a world away from the reality of war being felt by the Ukrainian people -- and IOC president (Thomas) Bach's own words less than a year ago where he strongly condemned Russia for breaking the Olympic Truce and urged it to 'give peace a chance," she added.
The head of Denmark's National Olympic Committee, Hans Natorp, said his country was also strongly opposed to Russia's return to the Olympic fold.
"The Russian aggression in UKR is escalating," he tweeted. "Under these circumstances, it will be unacceptable to open up for RUS and Belarusian international sports participation.
"We stand firmly in our position. Now is not the right time to consider their return."
The mayor of Paris said though that she was in favour of Russian athletes competing as neutrals at the 2024 Olympics.
"I think that it's a sporting moment and we shouldn't deprive athletes of the competition," Anne Hidalgo told France 2 television on Thursday.
"But I think and what I'm arguing for, as is a large part of the sporting world, is that there isn't a delegation under the Russian banner."
She suggested they compete under a "neutral banner".
Paris organisers have no say on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.
The IOC said on Wednesday that the international federation for each Olympic sport was "the sole authority for its international competitions".