— Published 26 June 2023

Between Moscow and Lausanne, time differs

“We have time”. When asked about the participation of Russia and Belarus in the Paris 2024 Games, Thomas Bach always gives the same answer. He cites the timetable. He dismisses any desire to rush things. Put another way, the IOC President is playing for time.

On Sunday 25 June, Moscow used more or less the same words to sum up the subject. Time. Patience. But Stanislav Pozdnyakov, President of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), gave them a completely different meaning. According to the former fencer, the IOC does indeed have time before making a decision. But it would be well advised to use it to review the conditions imposed on Russian athletes to take part in the Paris 2024 Games.

“As soon as the IOC has taken a position on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes, we will look at the issue again,” he explained, quoted by the TASS agency. “To date, no one has invited us. So I think it’s too early to discuss it in detail.”

So far, nothing very new. Stanislav Pozdnyakov merely pointed out the obvious: with just under 400 days to go until the opening of the Paris 2024 Games, the IOC has not yet officially issued invitations to the National Olympic Committees. It still has several months to sort through the hottest bids. Russia and Belarus top the list, but so do Afghanistan, Guatemala and even India.

But the President of the ROC was more aggressive in his comments, suggesting that the IOC should take advantage of the coming months to review the conditions imposed on Russian athletes to obtain neutrality status. “The humiliating conditions set out in the IOC’s recommendations presented on 28 March will be unacceptable to a large part of the Russian sporting community,” continued Stanislav Pozdnyakov. “We still have time before the Paris 2024 Games. Our colleagues in Lausanne should use this time to think about how to rectify the situation.”

The message is clear: Russia will not consider participating in the Paris 2024 Games under the current conditions recommended by the IOC to international federations. It could accept a presence under neutral status, as it did for the Tokyo 2020 Games, but certainly not if Russian athletes have to go through an in-depth examination of their social networks to detect positions taken in favour of the Kremlin and the war in Ukraine.

Even if officially invited by the IOC, Russia could then choose to withdraw, as it does not want to submit to a diktat that it considers “humiliating” and contrary to Olympic values.

Further proof that Russia’s return to the Olympic stage is still a long way off is the decision by the European Fencing Confederation (EFC) to back down completely on the Russian-Belarusian issue.

At its meeting on Saturday 24 June, the Congress approved the Ukrainian Fencing Federation’s proposal to exclude athletes, coaches and officials with Russian or Belarusian passports from its competitions. As an added bonus, the continental body came out in favour of suspending the Russian and Belarusian federations.

Earlier in June, Russia had been authorised by the EFC to take part in the European individual championships in Plovdiv. It came to Bulgaria with a skeleton delegation, made up mainly of young athletes, without a single medallist from the Tokyo 2020 Games. The door was opened. It has just closed again.