The president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, described as “detractors” those who oppose the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to the world competitive stage and ruled that “they are wrong”.
The German official gave a strong speech at the General Assembly of the Association of International Summer Olympic Federations (ASOIF) in the Swiss city of Lausanne.
During his presentation, Bach stated that the autonomy of sports was being “undermined by some governments” and that there are forces that want to “divide the global movement” that he leads. In addition, he praised the International Federations (IFs) that managed to “successfully” organize international tournaments with athletes from Russia and Belarus.
“Everyone knows that extremely complex political problems cannot have an easy way out, only populists claim to have simple solutions to solve the most complex problems in the world,” Bach said in one of the toughest passages of his speech.
In February 2022, Russian and Belarusian athletes had been excluded from the international sports community following the recommendations of the IOC itself in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Thus, over the past year, a large number of World Championships, World Cups and continental tournaments were held without representatives from those two countries present. Three months ago, the IOC Executive Committee suggested that competitors from both nations be authorized as neutrals, only on an individual level, and provided that they had not supported the war in Ukraine and were not affiliated with the Russian armed forces.
There are already 13 International Olympic Sports Federations that have readmitted Russian and Belarusian athletes to their competitions. Archery, canoeing, cycling, fencing, golf, judo, modern pentathlon, shooting, skateboarding, table tennis, taekwondo, triathlon and wrestling adhered to those recommendations; but athletics, badminton, horseback riding, sport climbing and surfing have refused to relax their positions.
Bach reiterated that the IOC’s position has an “intermediate approach”, since, for example, Russia and Belarus are still banned from hosting any international sporting event, while their flags and anthems continue to be excluded. In addition, the requirements to be considered neutral are quite clear.
In this regard, the World Taekwondo Championship is currently being held in Baku, Azerbaijan, with the reinstatement of athletes from Russia and Belarus as neutrals. Despite this easing, there were two cases of Russian taekwondo players who did not meet the neutrality requirements, so they were not enrolled in the tournament.
Another decisive point in this issue is that the IOC has not yet taken a final decision on the participation of Russians and Belarusians in the Paris Olympic Games next year. However, there are cases of teams that are already prevented from qualifying because they cannot participate in the pre-Olympic games arranged by each FI. The president of ASOIF, Francesco Ricci Bitti, explained the reason why a definition of it had not yet been requested at the General Assembly of his organization: “In my opinion, it is clear that the final decision on Paris 2024 was postponed by the IOC in the hope that something will change in the political situation,” said Ricci Bitti.
“We hope that in the coming months or over a certain period of time the situation will change and the IOC may be in a much better position to make a definitive determination about the 2024 Olympic Games,” Ricci Bitti concluded.