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Eyeing Olympic return in Paris, Russia optimistic of clearing hurdles gradually

Visual of the Eiffel Tower site in Olympic layout (Image courtesy: Twitter/@Paris2024)

Russia is hoping that its athletes are allowed to participate in international competitions, including the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris, on equal terms with their counterparts from other countries and without any additional conditions and restrictions.

Moscow’s optimism has risen after several developments over the past fortnight indicate some softening of long-standing stance taken by many countries on the issue of banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in international events over the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Earlier today, the Joe Biden Administration backed the admission of athletes from Russia and Belarus to the 2024 Paris Olympics under a neutral flag, without the use of official state Russian/Belarusian flags, emblems, and playing of national anthems during the medal ceremonies.

“In cases where sports organisations and event organisers, such as the International Olympic Committees — Committee, choose to permit athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate in sporting events, it should be absolutely clear that they are not representing the Russian or Belarusian states,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

The statement from Washington came a day after two experts from the United Nations, including Ashwini K P – the first Indian and Asian Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance – commended the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for considering allowing individual athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part in international sports competitions as neutral athletes.

“We urge the IOC to adopt a decision in that direction, and to go further, ensuring the non-discrimination of any athlete on the basis of their nationality,” stated the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) experts.

On January 25, following discussions with two UN Special Rapporteurs, the IOC Executive Board issued a statement referring to the need to respect the rights of all athletes to be treated without any discrimination, in accordance with the Olympic Charter.

A few days after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war in February 2022, the IOC recommended the ban of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials such as judges from international competitions.

(Image courtesy: Olympic.ru)

“The IOC recommendation raised serious issues of direct discrimination, because athletes should not be discriminated against on the basis of their nationality,” the UN experts said.

“We understand the desire to support Ukrainian athletes and the Ukrainian Olympic community, who suffer terribly from the war, together with all other Ukrainians,” the experts said. “But the Olympic Committee and more widely the Olympic community have also the compelling obligation to abide by the Olympic Charter, and more widely international human rights norms prohibiting discrimination,” they said.

Referring to the IOC condition that only Russian and Belarussian athletes who have not actively supported the war in Ukraine would be permitted to compete in a neutral capacity, the UN experts urged the IOC to take more steps to align its recommendations with international human rights standards on non-discrimination.

“This condition opens the door to pressure and interpretation. The same rules must apply to all athletes, whatever their nationality. This includes the rule that any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited,” they said.

While Poland has called for the formation of a broad coalition to oppose the IOC move, several countries have come forward to support Russian and Belarussian athletes.

The Russian Olympic Committee chief said that the statement of independent UN experts on human rights and non-discrimination fully confirms the initial firm position of Moscow that the recommendations of the IOC, adopted in February 2022 to ban the participation of Russian athletes in international competitions, and then the actions of international sports federations, were discriminatory and violate fundamental principles of the Olympic Movement.

“We proceed from the fact that any attempts to boycott major competitions and the Olympic Games have never led to success in the country that made them. Therefore, we urge our Ukrainian colleagues to abandon this practice,” said Stanislav Pozdnyakov, President of the Russian Olympic Committee.

At the same time, Moscow has also reiterated its principled position on the inadmissibility of the politicisation of the sports sector.

“I would like to emphasise once again that all attempts to squeeze out our country from international sports are doomed to failure. But the problem is not in this, but in the fact that, fixated on squeezing out our athletes from world sports, all these anti-doers are destroying the world sports movement,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told reporters in Moscow on Thursday.

Paris Olympics

As a number of qualifying events for the Paris 2024 Olympics kick off in the coming weeks, Russia has welcomed the offer from the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) to give eligible Russian and Belarusian athletes the opportunity to take part in competitions in Asia, including the Asian Games scheduled to be held in the Chinese city of Hangzhou this September.

“We welcome the statement of the Olympic Council of Asia, which offered competitive practice to our and Belarusian athletes, including within the framework of the Asian Games. Not all competitions are qualifying for the Olympics, but now we need international practice. I am sure that our athletes will have the opportunity to win the necessary quotas to participate in the 2024 Games,” said Pozdnyakov.