Olympic boss comments on relations with Putin
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has said now is not the time to lift widespread sporting bans on Russia, as he discussed how far relations have fallen after previous cooperation with President Vladimir Putin.
The IOC recommended at the end of February that sports federations across the world decline to invite Russian and Belarusian athletes to international events because of the conflict in Ukraine.
The IOC also stripped several Russian figures – including Putin – of Olympic honors which had been bestowed on them.
The Ukraine conflict has damaged IOC-Russia relations even further after they were already stretched by accusations of state-sponsored doping – marking a steady decline from the days when Russia successfully welcomed the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Speaking to Bild, German IOC chief Bach was asked about his former cooperation with Putin and the fact that the pair were previously considered by some as having a “friendship.”
“Friendship is interpreted very quickly from the outside,” said Bach.
“We worked very well and very closely with Russia and Putin around the 2014 Games. He also responded to our demands there. An example: the right of the LGBTQ movement to freedom of expression.”
The 68-year-old added that the subsequent allegations of state-sponsored doping of Russian athletes – which Russia has long denied – as well as reunification with Crimea and tensions in Ukraine have “brought these relations with the Russian Federation and the president to a virtual standstill.”
Bach has frequently doubled down on his claims that the current recommendations for bans on Russian athletes partly served to protect them from supposed hostility they would face outside their homeland.
Bach insisted to Bild that the Russian government were the ones “punished” for being “responsible” for the military operation in Ukraine.
“Here we have successfully requested all international federations that there should be no international sporting events on Russian and Belarusian soil,” Bach added.
“We have issued this recommendation and it stands. Now is not the time to reverse this recommendation and reverse the stance.
“We also recommend not to invite Russian or Belarusian athletes: no anthems, no flags, no colors. And we made a decision, for the first time in the history of the IOC: We revoked a medal that Russian President Putin received in 2001.”
Bach hit out, however, at the ban imposed by Wimbledon tennis tournament on Russian and Belarusian stars earlier this year, suggesting it was an example of political inference in a sport where players have largely been cleared to compete as neutrals.
“This is totally against our rules and against our mission. You know exactly how tense and how confrontational the geopolitical situation is, not only with regard to Russia and Belarus,” said Bach.
“Governments will decide tomorrow, the athletes from this or that country are not welcome either. Then sport would be part of the sanctions and counter-sanctions system that is very common at the moment.”
Bach seemingly admitted that the will to sanction Russia was far from universal.
“As a world organization you have to think: these sanctions from Russia are being borne by less than 50 countries in the world,” said Bach.
“That means we have about 150 National Olympic Committees in the IOC whose governments have not imposed any sanctions on Russia. And they ask us: Why are you reacting here? Just because it’s in Europe? What have you done with Yemen, with Afghanistan? What about Ethiopia, what about Mali?
“You have to see this worldview. We must not surrender to these political sanctions and political boycotts.”
Despite Bach’s claims that the IOC is attempting to find the right balance, Russian officials and sports figures have decried the bans imposed on their nation’s athletes as discriminatory and allowing politics to undermine Olympic principles.
Russian Olympic high jump champion Mariya Lasitskene has branded Bach “hypocritical” for arguing that the bans partly protect Russian athletes.
The three-time world champion accused the IOC president of lacking the “courage and dignity” to recommend that the suspensions be lifted.