IOC chief defends Russian and Belarusian committees
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach rushed to the defense of Russian and Belarusian delegates when their presence at the ANOC (Association of National Olympic Committees) General Assembly in Seoul on Wednesday was criticized.
The IOC recommended banning Russian teams and athletes from sports when the military operation in Ukraine broke out in late February.
In an hour-long speech made in the South Korean capital, Bach said that now “is not the time” to lift the ban but drilled home the message that “athletes should never be the victims of the policies of their own governments.”
Bach echoed this stance when questioned as to why the sanctions hadn’t been extended to Russian and Belarusian sports organizations, emphasizing that the conflict with Ukraine was not “started by the Russian people, the Russian athletes, the Russian Olympic Committee, or the IOC members in Russia.”
At one point in the meeting, Bach insisted that “we will not paint everybody with the same brush because of the actions of their government,” as reported by Inside the Games.
These remarks came after National Olympic Committee (NOC) and Sports Confederation of Denmark (DIF) President Hans Natorp used the phrase “the Russians,” as Bach told Natorp that his organization should “reflect on its role” as a member of the Olympic Movement.
Bach's response drew applause from some delegates, and the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Belarus (NOCRB) were both permitted to attend the Seoul General Assembly as recognized IOC members.
Their presence has also drawn opposition, however, with ANOC Acing President Robin Mitchell acknowledging that the organization received calls from at least 11 NOCs to reconsider the decision that was made at an Executive Council meeting on Tuesday.
“We have the presence of Russian and Belarusian NOCs and we are without the presence of Ukraine,” Natorp reportedly said, as the Ukrainians joined the meeting virtually.
“It should be the opposite. We need unity – this is built on the principles of the UN [United Nations] and Olympic Charter,” he added.
Bach responded to Natorp by insisting “unity also means we are in a democratic organization here, to respect the clear majority.”
The National Olympic Committees of Norway and New Zealand also issued statements to the ANOC General Assembly contesting the ROC and NOCRB's presence.
But others, including Panama and Sri Lanka, argued that athletes shouldn’t face punishment for “political” reasons.