Olympic official reveals ‘pathway’ for Russian return
There will “inevitably” be a desire for Russian athletes to return to international sporting competitions and potential steps are being taken in that direction, according to the chair of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), Susanne Lyons.
Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from international events in a wide variety of sports following a recommendation at the end of February from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because of the conflict in Ukraine.
The IOC and its president, Thomas Bach, have repeatedly defended the recommendation, claiming it partly serves to protect Russian and Belarusian athletes from supposed hostility they would face outside of their home countries.
Russian officials have condemned the bans, calling them discriminatory and contrary to the principle of sport being outside politics.
The head of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), Stanislav Pozdnyakov, said this week that the IOC and the West had already realized they were at a “dead end” with their sporting sanctions, and that they would inevitably have to be lifted.
American Olympic official Lyons gave an insight into a potential change of tune from the IOC in a conference call shared by Reuters on Thursday.
“We know that the IOC is beginning to think about whether there’s a pathway back for the Russian athletes,” Lyons said, according to the news agency.
“They are beginning to reach out to all of their stakeholders to get input on that topic.
“But I think all of us feel at some point in time individual athletes should not be the victims of whatever their government politics or other tensions there are around the world.
“I think inevitably there will be a desire to see athletes that happen to reside in Russia come back and be part of competition but the timing and what that looks like is to be determined,” added the US official.
Russian two-time Olympic fencing champion Sofya Velikaya was part of a conference call with IOC president Bach on Wednesday, where she represented the ROC Athletes’ Commission.
Velikaya later revealed that IOC officials had assured her that they “continue to look for a solution to the problem.”
The fencing star also said she had gained support from representatives of Athletes’ Commissions from other countries who were part of the conference call.
Sporting sanctions against Russia have deprived the nation’s athletes of the chance to compete in major tournaments, including the likes of the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar later this year, and the UEFA 2022 Women’s European Championship held during the summer.
Russia has also been stripped of a number of major events it was due to host, such as the UEFA 2022 Champions League final in St. Petersburg and the 2023 Ice Hockey World Championships at junior and senior levels.
In the absence of international competition for many athletes and teams, Russian officials have organized domestic alternatives such as the ongoing ‘Spartakiad’ games across an array of sports.