For the Russians, the road to the 2024 Olympics looks uncertain

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Will there be Russian and Belarusian athletes in Paris for the 2024 Olympics? If Ukraine, supported by the Baltic countries and Poland, is already demanding the exclusion of the two countries, the IOC is working on their reintegration under a neutral banner.

– When will we know if there will be Russians and Belarusians at the Paris Olympics?

Between now and the opening ceremony, on July 26, 2024, “we will be in artistic blur for a long time”, estimates Jean-Loup Chappelet, specialist in Olympism at the University of Lausanne, to AFP.

Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from most international competitions since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the international federations having followed the “recommendation” to this effect of the International Olympic Committee.

But the IOC, which has always explained that it decided “with a heavy heart”, to “protect the integrity” of the athletes concerned and of the competitions, has been working for several weeks for their reintegration under a neutral banner, provided that they have not “actively supported the war in Ukraine”.

However, no deadline has been set, while for their part, the Ukrainian authorities are calling for the definitive exclusion of the two delegations.

– Who will decide? –

The French organizers refer to the IOC, and the Olympic body based in Lausanne insists that the international federations (IF) remain “the only authorities” governing their competitions, plunging the sports world into a certain perplexity.

“It’s a whole process”, decrypts Jean-Loup Chappelet. “The IOC entrusts the IFs with the task of selecting individual athletes, therefore of verifying that the criteria for non-support in war are met”, a point which promises to be very delicate.

But in addition, continues the academic, “the IOC traditionally sends its invitations to the National Olympic Committees a year before the Games, with great fanfare”, and will therefore have to make up its mind vis-à-vis the Russian Committee, “even if it can postpone or temporize “.

Finally, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky directly appealed to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to banish the Russians, without an answer for the time being from the Elysée. If the subject has so far hardly been invited into the French public debate, in the midst of pension reform, Emmanuel Macron had assured about the World Cup-2022 football in Qatar that we should “not politicize sport” , outlining a position on the matter.

– Why is the decision difficult? –

If the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has caused a worldwide outcry, its consequences for athletes foreign to this decision are “a real dilemma”, forcing the Olympic world “to a game of balance”, observes Jean-Loup Rosary.

On the one hand, moral as well as political pressure: how to admit the Russians when the Ukrainian sportsmen, mobilized to defend their country or refugees abroad, have so little chance of performing well at the Games, and when the Russian presence risks to arouse hostility or even boycott?

But on the other side, “legally, the principle of non-discrimination” of athletes based on their passport “appears in the Olympic Charter”, recalls Jean-Loup Chappelet.

But Thomas Bach, the German president of the IOC, is a lawyer: “he knows that if the Russians go before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the IOC risks losing,” said the academic.

– Can the presence of Russians and Belarusians disrupt the 2024 Olympics? –

If it is for the moment very limited geographically, “the risk of boycott” agitated by Poland and the Baltic countries “is indisputable”, and would represent the first protest of this kind since the boycotts of the Olympic Games-1980 in Moscow then of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics in the middle of the Cold War, judge M. Chappelet.

The United States, Great Britain, Canada and Australia, which had decided in 2022 on a “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing Winter Games because of accusations of genocide of the Uyghurs by the Chinese authorities, n on the other hand, have brandished no similar threat for the moment.

“It’s a little early and not yet on the radar,” observes Jean-Loup Chappelet. “But we have to see how sponsors and media will position themselves in the coming months.”

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