The threat was in the air. It became concrete. Ukraine announced last weekend its decision not to send a delegation to the World Judo Championships. They should be held from May 7 to 14 in Doha, Qatar.
The reason is the almost certain participation of a Russian team. It was authorized by a decision of the world authority of the discipline (IJF), taken Saturday, April 29, to lift the suspension of Russian and Belarusian judokas.
The boycott of Ukraine was revealed by a report of the public television channel Suspilne, citing the head coach of the national team, Vitaliy Dubrova. It was confirmed by the Ukrainian Judo Federation.
But according to several sources, the discussions would be always in progress to find a compromise and allow the Ukrainian athletes not to compromise their chances to qualify for the Games of Paris 2024. The 2023 Worlds in Qatar are indeed an important step on the road to the Olympic appointment, distributing points for the world ranking.
The IJF announced it last Saturday: the Russian and Belarusian judokas will be accepted only as individuals and under cover of neutrality. To be eligible, they will have to undergo a background check, including their activity on social networks since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine. The IJF explains that it reserves the right to close the door to judokas from both countries who would have posted messages of “war propaganda.”
So far, nothing very unexpected. The IJF is doing nothing more than joining the growing number of international federations that have opened the door to Russian and Belarusian athletes. It follows the recommendation of the IOC Executive Board, officially expressed on March 28.
But the case of judo is different from the rest of the Olympic movement, for at least two reasons. The first is its calendar. The IJF is the first of the international authorities having decided to lift the suspension of the Russians and Belorussians to organize world championships, a decisive stage on the road of the Games of Paris 2024.
The second reason is hidden in the composition of the two delegations supposed to go at the end of the week in Doha to compete in the 2023 World Championships. No less than twenty Russian and Belarusian judokas are among the participants. Among them, at least five belong to a club of the Russian army. They would be four, according to the site of the Russian Ministry of Defense, to display the rank of chief sergeant.
At the top of the list, Inal Tasoev. European champion in 2021 in over 100 kg, he won the World Military Championships the same year. Another dubious case: Mikhail Igolnikov, bronze medalist at the same World Military Championships in under 90 kg. He is also committed to the 2023 World Championships in Doha.
Reaction of the Ukrainian Judo Federation: “The majority of the (Russian) team are athletes who are active servicemen of the armed forces of the Russian Federation, part of the army that attacked Ukraine on February 24, 2022 and is still waging a brutal full-scale war on our territory. more than 250 Ukrainian athletes have given their lives defending the country. Among them are representatives of judo. We do not see here neutrality, equal conditions and a ‘bridge to peace’ as stated in the IJF Resolution on the participation of Russian and Belarusian teams in the World Championships in Doha. Moreover, we see here a decision that contradicts the latest recommendations of the International Olympic Committee of March 28, 2023, where the IOC says that the status of neutral athletes can only be granted to those athletes who are not military personnel.”
Same incomprehension in the ranks of Ukrainian athletes. Daria Bilodid, the double world champion in under 48 kilos (2018 and 2019), bronze medalist at the Tokyo Games, did not mince her words at the announcement of the decision of the IJF. “I think it is unacceptable to allow military personnel from a terrorist country that kills Ukrainians every day to participate in international competitions,” she wrote on her Instagram account.
With less than a week to go, the World Judo Championships are shaping up to be a first test for the Olympic movement in its attempt to bring Russian and Belarusian athletes back onto the international stage. The final decision of the IJF, in particular on the participation of judokas belonging to the army, will be observed by the other authorities. It could set a precedent.