By: Gyang Dakwo
Russians and Belarusians who qualify in their sport for the Paris 2024 Olympics can take part as neutrals without flags, emblems or anthems at the event next year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Friday.
“The Executive Board (EB) of the IOC has decided that Individual Neutral Athletes (AINs) who have qualified through the existing qualification systems of the International Federations (IFs) on the field of play will be declared eligible to compete at the Olympic Games Paris 2024,” the Olympic body said in a statement.
“Individual Neutral Athletes are athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport.”
Russians and Belarusians had initially been banned from competing internationally following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, for which Belarus has been used as a staging ground.
In March, however, the IOC issued a first set of recommendations for international sports federations to allow Russian and Belarusian competitors to return and they have since done so in most events.
Athletics, the Games’ biggest sport, is unlikely to open the door for them to return to competition however, after banning them following the invasion and sticking to it on Friday.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba condemned what he said was a “shameful” IOC decision while Russia’s Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin called the conditions set by the IOC for Russian athletes’ participation at the Olympics “discriminatory.”
“Participation in the Olympics is an athlete’s dream. But the conditions are discriminatory and go against the principles of sports,” he was quoted by TASS news agency.
“By doing so, they harm the Olympic Games themselves, and not Russian sports. The approach is absolutely unacceptable.”
Out of 4,600 athletes globally who have so far qualified for the Games, which open on July 26, eight are Russians and three hold Belarusian passports. More than 60 Ukrainians have qualified.