— Published 31 July 2023

Tensions rise between Moscow and Lausanne

The question of the presence of Russian athletes under neutral status at the Paris 2024 Games has still not been resolved. And according to Thomas Bach’s own forecasts, it won’t be until the end of 2023 at the earliest. But in the meantime, relations between the IOC and Russia are as tense as a bow.

Lausanne and Moscow are speaking to each other in increasingly hostile tones, and there is no longer any question of the slightest attempt at compromise. The latest episodes have confirmed it: the tone is rising.

At the end of last week, Russia did not appreciate the IOC’s measured comments following the controversy surrounding the disqualification of Ukrainian sabre fencer Olga Kharlan from the individual event at the world fencing championships in Milan (she was subsequently reinstated and allowed to take part in the team competition). The Olympic body asked the federations to show “sensitivity” towards the Ukrainian athletes.

The expression was intended to be painless. But it triggered anger in Moscow. Stanislav Pozdniakov, President of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and himself a former fencer – like Thomas Bach – felt that the IOC had “taken sides in a political conflict”. And had even, according to his interpretation of the Olga Kharlan case, “begun to act in the interests of that party”, namely Ukraine.

For Stanislav Pozdniakov, there is no doubt that the IOC is siding with Kiev, despite its political neutrality. Lausanne’s call for “sensitivity” towards the Ukrainian athletes is not simply an attempt to calm tempers on the competition field. In his view, it illustrates “the duplicity of the so-called recommendations” made by the IOC to the international federations.

Stanislav Pozdniakov is adamant that the IOC has given in to Kiev’s “Russophobic demands”. His position on the Olga Kharlan affair demonstrates this without the slightest ambiguity: according to him, Russian athletes will have to expect the worst at future international competitions.

The IOC did not respond to Stanislav Pozdniakov’s very direct comments. But the Olympic body has not remained silent on another issue involving Russia and the sporting movement: the creation next year by Moscow of a new multi-sport event, the BRICS Games.

They are due to be held from 20 to 23 June 2024 in Kazan and will bring together, in addition to Russia, Brazil, China, India and South Africa. Russia’s Minister of Sport, Oleg Matytsin, confirmed the organisation of the Games, at the same time as unveiling the dates and the host city.

The BRICS Games are the brainchild of Vladimir Putin himself. Last May, the Russian president asked his government to look into the creation of new international sporting events to be organised in the country, to which athletes from allied countries would be invited.

In Lausanne, the announcement made last week by Oleg Matytsin was not really appreciated at the Olympic House. It was even seen as another attempt by the Russian authorities to use sport as a political tool.

An IOC spokesperson explained to FrancsJeux: “We refer you to the IOC President’s speech at the Session on 22 June 2023, in which he said: ‘We have the Russian side considering our strict conditions (for the reinstatement of Russian athletes in international competitions, editor’s note) as unacceptable, humiliating and discriminatory. The Russian government is accusing us of acting in contradiction with our political neutrality, while at the same time this same government is shamelessly trying to organise fully politicised sporting competitions.”

The war of words and declarations is intensifying between Moscow and Lausanne. As for the Russian athletes, they continue to advance in the fog.