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7 Dec, 2022 18:18

IOC chief discusses chances of lifting Russian bans

The IOC is due to hold its annual summit later this week
IOC chief discusses chances of lifting Russian bans

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has again stated that sanctions imposed by his organization against Russia and Belarus must remain in place. He added, however, that discussions on the potential return of athletes from the two countries to international competitions must be an ongoing process.

The IOC issued a rebuke against the actions of the Russian government in Ukraine swiftly after the launch of Moscow’s military operation in late February – a move which saw numerous sporting federations fall in line by imposing blanket bans on Russian and Belarusian athletes.

Bach has so far resisted calls from some quarters to ease up on the restrictions, claiming that “sanctions” such as stripping Russia of the right to host major tournaments are targeting the country’s hierarchy, while recommendations for a ban on athletes serves partly to protect them from supposed hostility they would face outside their homeland. 

Bach discussed the current situation following an IOC board meeting on Wednesday – which comes ahead of an IOC summit on Friday. 

“I received the full backing of the IOC board for the statements I have made on several occasions. The sanctions against the Russian and Belarusian government must firmly remain,” said Bach.

He added that the sanctions are in place because of Russia’s supposed breach of the “Olympic Truce,” and stated that they remain in place to ensure that Russia can’t host globally recognized events or have its national symbols displayed outside of Russian territory.

Bach added that the IOC remains in “continued solidarity” with Ukraine, and hopes for a robust Ukrainian presence at the Paris Olympics in 2024. 

We then had a debate which took several hours about the athletes, and the impact of this war on the athletes.

“In particular, with regards to the participation of athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports at international sports competitions, he continued.

There, I will never get tired to repeat and make it clear all over again that the question of participation of athletes is very different to the question of sanctions for their government.

The question of athletes’ participation was never part, and could not be part, of the sanctions. Because the position of the Olympic movement was, and remains, that athletes could not be punished for acts of their government as long as they do not contribute to it or support it.

Bach suggested that he and the IOC have had their hands forced by Russia’s military action, and that refusing an athlete’s right to compete on the international stage was an absolute last resort – while indicating that he co-signed a recent statement by French President Emmanuel Macron in which he said that sport should remain free of political influence.

To protect the integrity of the competitions, we had to do what we never did and we never wanted to do, which is prohibiting athletes to compete only because of their passport, he explained.

We have made it clear that we need to explore ways to overcome this dilemma, and come back to sporting merits and not political interference.”

And while Bach appeared to signal that dialogue can be open for a Russian return to sports, there is as of yet no roadmap with which to get there.

But one thing, he said, would be the first consideration of any Russian athletes hoping to return to the international scene: they must not show any visible support for the conflict.

This, along with other topics, will be further discussed at the 11th Olympic Summit this Friday in Lausanne, Switzerland.