— Published 29 March 2023

On the Russian question, the IOC recommends but makes no decisions

The decision was expected. And even, come on, written in advance. On the first day of its meeting in Lausanne, Tuesday 28 March, the IOC Executive Board opened the door a little wider to a return of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competitions. But, cautiously, it kept quiet about the most explosive subject of the moment: their participation in the Paris 2024 Games.

Thomas Bach explained it himself, in a press conference, reading without haste a long press release before answering questions: the IOC recommends to the international federations to reintegrate the Russian and Belarusian athletes. Thirteen months earlier, the body had issued an opposite recommendation.

So the parenthesis is closed. But, unlike its recommendations of February 2022, the IOC Executive Board has put on paper a whole series of conditions.

Athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport “can only compete as neutral individual athletes“, the body said. The national teams are not concerned. They remain at the door, in the collective sports but also in the disciplines where collective events are planned.

So far, everything is clear, even if the distinction will not always be easy to apply. Taken literally, this first condition of the IOC would allow, for example, a Russian rower to compete in a single scull, the only individual boat in rowing, but not in other categories.

Second condition: “Athletes who actively support the war cannot compete. Support personnel who actively support the war cannot be entered.” Here again, the IOC remains true to its position. It leaves the international federations with the complex task of identifying active supporters among the applicant contingent.

Even more delicate: the executive board recommends not allowing the return of “athletes who are contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies“. The same goes for “support personnel who are contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies“. In a country like Russia, where a large number of athletes traditionally belong to army clubs without actually being soldiers, this condition recommended by the IOC could be debated.

Finally, the IOC specifies that all neutral individual athletes “must meet all anti-doping requirements“. Normal. It also explains that the sanctions against “those responsible for the war – the Russian and Belarusian states and governments” remain in place. No event can be organized in the two countries.

The Paris 2024 Games? Cautious, the IOC plays the watch. Thomas Bach explained it on Tuesday, March 28: the issue will be settled “at the appropriate time“. The formula is vague enough to leave him a lot of room for maneuver. Better: the Olympic body explains that the decision on the participation of Russia and Belarus in the next Summer Games can be taken “at its own discretion, and without being bound by the results of qualifying competitions.” Clearly, anything is possible, in one direction as in the other.

Question: will the international federations follow the recommendations of the IOC Executive Board? Fencing (FIE) took the lead by voting on March 10 for the conditional return of Russian and Belarusian athletes. Athletics (World Athletics) chose the opposite path by deciding last week to maintain their exclusion until further notice.

The others will have to announce their position without delay. It would be surprising if they were numerous to stand up to the IOC, the Olympic movement having until now massively expressed its support for the reintegration of athletes from the two countries at war with Ukraine.

Elsewhere, on the other hand, the reactions did not delay. They are unanimous to denounce the opening recommended by the IOC. The German Minister of the Interior and Homeland, Nancy Faeser, spoke of “a slap in the face to Ukrainian athletes”. Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk raged on social networks, calling it “a day of shame for the IOC.

In Moscow, where the news from Lausanne should have been welcomed, the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) remains upright and continues to refuse the conditions imposed by the IOC. Stanislav Pozdniakov, its president, repeated on Tuesday that they were “unacceptable and discriminatory.

Less expected, the Ukrainian reaction. The Minister of Sport, Vadym Guttsait, wants to retain the essential: the decision of the IOC to postpone the question of the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the Paris 2024 Games. In his eyes, a form of victory.