— Published 12 July 2023

For Russia, one door opens, another closes

The always high-profile D – 1 year before the Paris 2024 Games, on Wednesday July 26, and its procession of announcements and celebrations, will once again serve as a reminder: the question of Russian and Belarusian athletes’ participation in the Olympic events has still not been settled. And there is nothing to suggest that it will be resolved in the coming months.

The latest episodes in the soap opera have illustrated this: for one step forward towards the return of athletes from both countries to the international stage, the Olympic movement is taking two steps backwards.

On Tuesday July 11, the Russian news agency TASS reported two new pieces of information confirming this trend. The first is in line with the recommendation made by the IOC Executive Board at the end of March. The second turns its back.

According to TASS, the International Cycling Union (UCI) has decided to allow 18 Russian riders, plus a further 14 representing Belarus, to take part in international competitions. The list has now been unveiled. It is accompanied by the conditions for their return: the athletes will be admitted under neutral status, and will take part in competitions, including World Cup stages and world championships, on an individual basis.

As a reminder, last May the UCI joined the contingent of international federations that have chosen to follow the IOC’s recommendations and study the conditions for the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes. Some are still at the study stage. The UCI has now concretized its approach with an initial list of returnees.

Second piece of information, contradictory to the first: Russian and Belarussian athletes will remain outside the next edition of the World University Games. It is scheduled to take place from July 28 to August 8, 2023 in Chengdu, China.

To a question from the TASS agency about the participation of athletes from the two countries at war with Ukraine, a FISU spokesman replied on Tuesday July 11 in the negative. “They won’t be,” he explained.

The regulations for the multisport event state that the deadline for submitting applications to take part was June 28. By this date, no Russian or Belarusian athletes had signed up.

Paradoxically, the World University Games were originally awarded to the Russian city of Ekaterinburg in the Urals. But in April 2022, the FISU Executive Committee announced its decision to withdraw Russia from hosting the event, due to the conflict in Ukraine. The Chinese city of Chengdu was chosen as Plan B.

Russia’s reaction was not immediate. But it was not lacking in audacity: at the beginning of July, the Kremlin announced, through the voice of Vladimir Putin, the organization of a rival event. An International University Sports Festival, no less. It will take place from August 19 to 31, 2023 in Ekaterinburg.

The Russian president himself launched the invitations on July 4, at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit. “I invite the national teams of all your countries to the city of Ekaterinburg, which will host the International Festival of University Sport in August 2023,” said Vladimir Putin, adding that the event would also be open to the BRICS nations of Brazil, India, China and South Africa, as well as those belonging to the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States).

The program features 14 summer sports, for a total of 193 medal events. And a quartet of ambassador athletes, all Russian, including international volleyball player Arina Fedorovtseva (photo above).