Olympic Federation of Ireland to consult on move to reinstate Russia ahead of Paris 2024

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is intent on reopening the door ahead of the Paris Games next summer

The Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI) will engage with all relevant stakeholders on the move to reinstate athletes from Russia and Belarus ahead of next year’s Paris Olympics, despite Russia’s continuing invasion of Ukraine, and repeated calls from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to deny them any such representation at the Games.

In a surprisingly supportive statement the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Wednesday evening claimed “the vast majority of participants” in consultation calls want a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to the international stage, beginning with the Paris qualification events and competing as “neutral athletes”.

According to the IOC it held consultation talks with IOC members, athletes’ representatives, international federations and national Olympic committees on January 17th and 19th to discuss the outcome of the Olympic Summit, held in December, before the IOC executive board met on Wednesday to consider the conclusions.

Afterwards the IOC reiterated that sanctions against Russia and Belarus remain in place, such as the ban on national symbols, and that it would continue and even strengthen the full and unwavering commitment to solidarity with the Ukrainian athletes, before citing a “unifying mission” during a time of war and the possible access to sports competitions for individual athletes with Russian or Belarusian passports.

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This it said would “respect the rights of all athletes to be treated without any discrimination, in accordance with the Olympic Charter. Governments must not decide which athletes can participate in which competition and which athletes cannot. No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport”.

The OFI had a scheduled EGM in Dublin on Thursday evening, ahead of which OFI chief executive Peter Sherrard spoke to The Irish Times.

“We are engaging in consultation on this matter with all our stakeholder groups, including our athletes commission, because it is complex and still raw, and it’s important we’re given the time to do that,” said Sherrard.

“So it is on the agenda, and once that process is complete we’ll look to put something more coherent out there, to update the public.”

The IOC added: “A pathway for athletes’ participation in competition under strict conditions should therefore be further explored. Such strict conditions being athletes would participate in competitions as ‘neutral athletes’ and in no way represent their state or any other organisation in their country, as is already happening in professional leagues, particularly in Europe, the United States and Canada, and in some individual professional sports.”

Zelenskiy had again addressed the issue on Tuesday after speaking with French president Emmanuel Macron, who helped campaign for the Paris Olympics when it was a bid candidate in 2017: “I particularly emphasised that athletes from Russia should have no place at the Olympic Games in Paris,” Zelenskiy wrote on his Telegram account following his talks with Macron.

The Olympic Council of Asia has already offered to accept athletes from Russia and Belarus into their Paris Olympic qualifying events. IOC president Thomas Bach did not hold his usual news conference after Wednesday’s executive board meeting.

In response a joint statement from the Ukrainian Athletes and Global Athlete commissions said any moves to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in qualifiers to attend the 2024 Paris Olympic Games “sends a message to the world that IOC endorses Russia’s brutal war and invasion of Ukraine. By allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete, the IOC is strengthening Russia’s propaganda machine, empowering the Putin regime, and undermining peace”.

It further added: “The IOC claims that fairness requires that no athlete be punished for the actions of their government. This position ignores the reality of international sport as a tool of geopolitics – the Russian Olympic team is part of the Russian state and Russian athletes are not politically free. Every Russian athlete competing in Paris has the potential to incite further lives lost in Ukraine.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that Russia has complete control over the IOC and its leadership. The IOC is allowing the Games to be used for sportswashing – to normalise, legitimise, and distract from the war. As a servant of Russia, the IOC continues to be on the wrong side of history with this decision that favours politics over principle and war over peace.”

The IOC however also referenced some precedence, and the situation regarding the participation of individual athletes from the former Yugoslavia at the Barcelona Olympics, 1992, even when there were United Nations sanctions in place against the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

In December Bach previously indicated to Macron the IOC’s position that “we need to explore ways to overcome this dilemma with regard to athletes’ participation and come back to the sporting merits, and not to political interference”.

Also at last month’s G20 Leaders’ Summit, Macron, said “sport should not be politicised”, specifically mentioning the Olympic and Paralympic Games Paris 2024, and such major events “are meant to allow athletes from all countries, sometimes including countries at war, to live their sport”.

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