— Published 27 January 2023

On the Russian question, the IOC angers both sides

Will Russian and Belarusian athletes soon find a place in international competitions? After reading the latest IOC press release, published on Wednesday, January 25 at the end of the IOC Executive Board meeting, there is no doubt about the answer. It is positive.

Not all the details have been settled. The date, especially, of a return to the international scene. But the way is clear. The IOC has consulted the “stakeholders“, international federations, national Olympic committees and athletes’ commissions. It is clear that there is a consensus that Russian and Belarusian athletes should no longer be excluded solely on the basis of their nationality.

The only problem is that the IOC’s position is not supported by either Ukraine or Russia. In the case of Ukraine, it was expected. For Russia, it was a little less expected.

The day after the announcement of the IOC, the authorities of Kiev reacted without nuance. Vadym Guttsait, the Minister of Sports, also president of the National Olympic Committee and the Ukrainian Fencing Federation, brandished the threat of a boycott of the Paris 2024 Games if Russia was present.

Such a situation is unacceptable for our state, he reacted on his Facebook account. Our position remains unchanged: as long as the war continues in Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian athletes should not participate in international competitions. If we are not heard, I do not exclude the possibility that we boycott and refuse to participate in the Olympic Games.

The declaration of Vadym Guttsait intervenes a few days after a position quite as radical of the Ukrainian head of the state, Volodymyr Zelensky. Earlier this week, he took advantage of a telephone exchange with Emmanuel Macron to ask the French president that Russian athletes do not participate in the Paris 2024 Games.

The threat of a boycott of the next Olympic appointment has already been brandished at the beginning of the year by the Norwegian Gerhard Heiberg, former member of the IOC Executive Board, now sent by the age limit in the ranks of honorary members. The Scandinavian leader had suggested: “The plan to think about acceptable conditions for the reinstatement of Russian athletes comes much too early (…) Ukraine’s neighbors could well resort to a boycott.”

Less expected is the reaction of Moscow. Certainly, the Russian political and sports authorities have commented on the announcement of the IOC by calling it “common sense“. In their eyes, the IOC is preparing to “correct a mistake“.

But the conditions stated by the Olympic body for a return of the Russian and Belarusian athletes make the Moscow officials cough. At the head of the list, the requirement of political neutrality advanced by the executive commission of the IOC. Russia wants to send its athletes to the Games of Paris 2024, but it refuses to see the international federations select eligible candidates according to their presumed position on the conflict in Ukraine.

For Oleg Matytsin, the Russian Minister of Sport, the conditions set by the IOC are not acceptable. “We consider that it is unacceptable to determine special conditions of participation of athletes, it is incompatible with the Olympic Charter, the principles of equality and fairness,” he explained.

Stanislav Pozdnyakov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), said the same. “I see the information from the IOC as an attempt to take a step towards the athletes, he said. But at the same time, unfortunately, it is also two steps in the opposite direction. We categorically disagree with the restrictions, additional requirements and sanctions related to the nationality of our athletes and which are again proposed to us as a condition for returning to the international arena.

According to Stanislav Pozdnyakov, the ROC is considering requesting a legal analysis of the IOC Executive Board’s statement.