— Published 26 April 2023

The Council of Europe takes up the Russian question


With less than 500 days to go before the opening of the Paris 2024 Games (D – 457 on Wednesday 26 April), the dialogue between the sports movement and the political world remains tense on the issue of the return of Russian athletes to international competitions. Proof of this was given on Tuesday 25 April, during a two-hour public hearing of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg (France). The European elected representatives once again asserted their position: a continued exclusion of sportsmen and women from the two countries at war with Ukraine. Opening the session, PACE President Tiny Kox of the Netherlands set the tone by suggesting that reinstatement of Russian athletes was a “totally unthinkable” prospect which could “serve the propaganda objectives of the aggressor”. Ukraine’s Deputy Sports Minister Andriy Chesnokov made the point in a video intervention by asking the Parliamentary Assembly to continue to “unwaveringly support” his country by banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing. On the other side of the argument, the IOC said in a statement that it was “important that the views of the athletes’ representatives be presented” and that immediate decisions on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes were up to the international federations. Invited to speak in her capacity as Sports Minister of the host country of the next Summer Games, Amélie Oudéa-Castera played it safe. In a video message, the French minister assured that “France recognises and respects the autonomy of the sports movement”. She also promised to “do everything possible” to ensure that Ukrainian sportsmen and women perform well at the Paris 2024 Games, in particular thanks to the one million euros in aid released by France for their preparation. A budget that should allow, Amélie Oudéa-Castera continued, “the complete management” of the Ukrainian delegation’s base camp. Present in Strasbourg in his capacity as President of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF), the Italian Francesco Ricci Bitti reminded the audience of the essential point, often ignored by the political authorities: “The eligibility process currently under discussion has nothing to do with the Olympic Games. It is a kind of trial run in the field of international competitions.”