With less than 500 days to go before the opening of the Paris 2024 Games (D-464 on Wednesday 19 April), Russia can cross a new line off its draft roadmap. Since Tuesday 18 April, it has known with certainty that its men’s basketball team will not experience the next Olympic tournament from the inside, on the court.
The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) announced on its website: Russia is already off the road to the Paris 2024 Games. It will not be able to participate in the Olympic pre-qualification tournaments, scheduled for 12-20 August 2023. The stage is mandatory for the 40 teams absent from the 2023 World Cup.
“In accordance with the IOC recommendations regarding the participation of athletes with Russian or Belarusian nationality in international competitions published on 28 March, the FIBA Executive Committee has decided not to authorise the registration of the national teams of Russia and Belarus in the FIBA 2023 Olympic Pre-Qualification Tournaments,” writes the body chaired by Hamane Niang of Mali.
For the Russian women’s team, the case was already closed. Suspended by FIBA after the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, it was excluded from the qualifications for the World Cup and EuroBasket. The road to the Paris 2024 Games is therefore definitively closed to them.
The men, on the other hand, could still hope. But the recommendation of the IOC Executive Board, formulated on 28 March, was very clear on team sports. The IOC’s press release, published the same day, stated in no uncertain terms: “The participation of teams whose athletes hold Russian or Belarusian passports cannot be considered.”
Russia’s last appearance at a men’s Olympic tournament was at the 2012 London Games, where it won the bronze medal. Since then, the Russians have lost muscle and breath, containing themselves with a 12th at the last FIBA World Cup, hosted in China in 2019.
FIBA’s decision is not a surprise. The international body has chosen to follow the IOC’s recommendation, without any nuance concerning team sports. Volleyball, where Russia is one of the world’s leading nations in both men’s and women’s volleyball, should follow the same path. The same goes for handball.
3×3 basketball? At this stage, FIBA has not yet decided. At the Tokyo 2020 Games, where the discipline made its debut in the Olympic programme, a women’s team from the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) won the silver medal, beaten in the final by the USA. In theory, the road to the Paris 2024 Games is not yet closed to Russian and Belarusian players of the discipline.
In its recommendations, the IOC specifies that a return to international competitions of athletes from the two countries at war with Ukraine – under conditions of neutrality – can only be envisaged on an individual basis. What about team events? In rowing, for example, is the coxed eight considered an individual event or a team sport? In table tennis, could the Russians compete in the singles tables but not in the team events?
Faced with these questions, the IOC responded without answering. “The definition of team sports or team events is established in accordance with the corresponding regulations of the international federations,” it wrote in its very long question-and-answer on the Russian and Belarussian file, published on its website and regularly updated.
Russia won’t be in it, then, but qualifying for the Paris 2024 Games is shaping up to be a furious battle in men’s basketball. The five pre-qualification tournaments will bring together the 28 countries that were involved in the second round of the 2023 FIBA World Cup qualifiers but left out of the final phase in Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines. They will be joined by 12 other nations, chosen by their world ranking.
The five winners of the pre-qualification tournaments will be able to continue on to the next stage, the Olympic qualification tournaments in 2024.
In addition to France, which is guaranteed a ticket as host country, seven teams will earn their place at the 2024 Paris Games at the 2023 World Cup (two from America and Europe, one from Africa, one from Asia and one from Oceania). The final four entry tickets will be distributed next year to the winners of the Olympic qualifying tournaments.