Criticism by some European governments of a plan to see a full return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international sport is deplorable and cuts into the autonomy of sport, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said on Thursday.
The IOC on Wednesday issued a set of recommendations for international sports federations that will allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to return since their ban last year following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. This does not include the 2024 Olympics in Paris. A separate decision on that will be taken at a later date.
But governments in Ukraine, Poland, Britain and the Czech Republic among others have been angered by the IOC’s plan for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete again, saying they have no place in world sport with the war still ongoing. Germany’s Olympic committee is also against any Russian return to sport.
“It is deplorable to see that some governments do not want to respect the majority within the Olympic movement and all stakeholders, nor the autonomy of sport,” Bach told a news conference at the end of an executive board meeting. “It is deplorable that these governments do not address the question of double standards. We have not seen a single comment on their attitude on the participation of athletes from countries of the other 70 wars and armed conflict around the world.”
Athletes from Russia and Belarus, Moscow’s ally, were banned from most international competitions last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”.
The Lausanne-based IOC's latest guidelines to allow for their return to world sport cite human rights concerns for Russian athletes and the current participation of Russians and Belarusians in some sports as reasons for the decision.
“Russians kill Ukrainian citizens every day,” said Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian Presidential Office and the chief-of-staff to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a statement.
“Hundreds of Ukrainian athletes die defending their country from the aggressor. However, the IOC prefers not to notice this. This is not fair. Injustice destroys the spirit of the Olympic movement in the same way that Russia destroys international law. The IOC must immediately put an end to the blood sport and the aggressor state must be ostracised. Any attempt to save its face is a shameful mockery of the ideals of humanity which the international Olympic movement rests upon.”
The IOC plan foresees sports federations providing access for Russians and Belarusians at Asian events and Olympic qualifiers, instead of them having to compete in Europe which is not possible at present.
The Olympic Council of Asia's athletes committee on Thursday fully backed the IOC recommendations, asking only for fairness for Asian competitors in any qualification pathway.
Bach said it was now up to each sports federation to take the next steps and it would be best for governments not to involve themselves with how sport is run. “Government interventions (criticism) have strengthened the unity of the Olympic movement,” Bach said. “It cannot be up to the governments to decide which athletes can participate in which competition. This would be the end of world sport as we know it today.”