Paris Olympics: IOC continues to grapple with impact of war in Ukraine

With less than a year to go until the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France, the most prestigious sporting event in the world is still unsure of how to deal with the fallout of the ongoing war in Ukraine. 

The main topic of discussion in Olympic circles has been the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes. In July, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chose to not formally invite Russia and Belarus to participate in next year’s Games. 

"To protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants, the IOC EB recommends that International Sports Federations and sports event organizers not invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international competitions," the committee said in a statement.

The IOC’s decision is far from unprecedented. South Africa was excluded in the 1970s and 80s because of its apartheid regime and UN sanctions, and Yugoslavia was excluded because of UN sanctions in 1992. Germany was not invited in 1920, 1924 and 1948 following the two world wars.

IOC clashes with EU governments

However, the IOC also wants to let Russian and Belarusian nationals participate under a neutral banner. IOC president Thomas Bach said that "athletes should not be held responsible and punished for the actions of their governments" and referred to a UN statement that "no one should be discriminated against based on their passport" during a press conference this month.

"Athletes should not be held responsible and punished for the actions of their governments"

Many Western countries, meanwhile, want to ban athletes from both countries. Ukraine's sports minister, Vadym Gutzeit, even threatened a potential boycott, calling the IOC a “promoter of war, murder and destruction” and citing 260 athletes that have been killed since the war began in February 2022.

Double standards?

The differing opinions have already caused issues during the 2024 qualifying events. The IOC has reportedly denied letting the UK host a qualifying event, because the country wants any Russian or Belarusian athlete on its soil to sign a declaration saying they do not support Vladimir Putin.

The IOC has also accused certain European governments of having “double standards”. "It is deplorable that these Governments do not address the question of double standards,” an IOC statement reads. "We have not seen a single comment from them about their attitude towards the participation of athletes whose countries are involved in the other 70 wars, armed conflicts and crises in the world.”

A final decision on the issue is not expected anytime soon. The IOC wants to take its time in making the decision because it could have severe consequences for the Olympics. "It is too early to draw definitive conclusions. We will take our time and make the right decision," Bach said.


Ukraine supporters gather in New York to protest Russia's participation in the 2024 Olympics © MATTHEW RODIER/SIPA USA

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