Olympic chiefs have been urged by five of Russia’s neighbours to rule on Tuesday that all Russians should be blocked from competing at the Paris Games.
The plea from the governments of Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Ukraine is likely to go unheeded.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has been insistent in recent weeks that Russians should not be discriminated against due to their nationality – regardless of Vladimir Putin‘s ongoing war on Ukraine.
It is a softening of Mr Bach’s position after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine was launched in February 2022 when a blanket ban on Russians was favoured – using the Olympic Charter authority to refuse entry to any athlete without explanation.
But the IOC’s newfound willingness to let Russians at Paris 2024 compete as neutrals was rejected last week by World Athletics – with the biggest Olympic sport imposing a complete ban as desired by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The issue is up for discussion again by the IOC’s executive board on Tuesday – listed on the agenda as a review of the feedback from consulting athletes and sports as well as Olympic officials globally.
While the IOC’s position has not officially been settled for Paris, Mr Bach made his stance clear in Germany last week: “If politics decide who can take part in a competition, then sport and athletes become tools of politics.”
That was a rebuke to the politicians, including in Britain, demanding no athlete from Russia – nor war ally Belarus – be given the platform of the Olympics.
Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Ukraine reminded the IOC on Monday that the civilian infrastructure being attacked by the Russian military includes sports facilities and said: “Many athletes from Ukraine are still prevented from participating in sports events because of Russia’s attack on their country.”
The governments did provide a way Russians and Belarussians could return to international sport: “Ending the war of aggression launched by Russia, with the complicity of Belarus, and restoring respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within the internationally recognised borders.”
The IOC has been seeking the advice of UN special rapporteur for cultural rights Alexandra Xanthaki, who held talks with 188 athletes from across the world last week.
Allowing Russian athletes to compete ‘doing more for peace’ – IOC boss
The international law expert has even opened up the possibility of Russian soldiers being allowed at Paris 2024, proposing neutral status should only be denied to those accused of “war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity or propaganda for war”.
She pointed out that people can be conscripted to fight and are only “following orders”.
But Ukrainian athletes are challenging her analysis.
A boycott of the Games has been floated but not directly threatened by countries enraged by the IOC’s position.
For now, the focus is on persuading the IOC to reverse track again.
Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Ukraine said in their joint statement: “We wish to stress that it is not athletes’ nationality that determines their role, but the fact that they are sponsored/supported by their governments or businesses backing up the Kremlin regime, which continues its war of aggression against Ukraine, or even they are affiliated with the Russian military directly.”