The International Gymnastics Federation authorized the first neutrals: they are all from Belarus, there are no Russians

In compliance with what was announced in July of last year, the governing organization of gymnastics began publishing this week the athletes who meet the neutrality requirements required to return to competing internationally. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic champion in trampoline gymnastics, Ivan Litvinovich, and the bronze medalist in rhythmic gymnastics, Alina Harnasko, are the two most resonant figures to receive the green light, although it’s not clear how they could qualify for the Paris Olympics.

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Ivan Litvinovich was Belarus's only gold medalist in Tokyo 2020.
Ivan Litvinovich was Belarus's only gold medalist in Tokyo 2020.

In 2022, Russians and Belarusians were banned from formal participation in most sports following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which Belarus supports. But last year the International Olympic Committee (IOC) asked the governing bodies of each discipline to consider integrating individual athletes from both countries once again as neutral. To be eligible for “neutral” status, athletes and officials must not have publicly supported the war or have ties to state military and security agencies.

This week, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) granted neutral status to a total of 30 representatives, all from Belarus, including athletes, coaches and judges. However, it is not clear - in some cases - how they could qualify for the Paris Olympics. In trampoline gymnastics and artistic gymnastics, they will have the possibility through the World Cups, where places will be distributed to the best placed on the circuit. However, in rhythmic gymnastics the only possibility will be through the European Championships in Baku in May, and the European Gymnastics Union (UEG) condemned the reintegration of Russia and Belarus in an announcement made last month.

The current Olympic trampoline champion, Ivan Litvinovich, was one of 14 gymnasts on the FIG list of people who were granted neutral status. Also included are Anastasia Salos and Alina Harnasko, the two best representatives of the country’s rhythm, together with the promising young Yelyzaveta Zorkina. Of men’s artistic gymnastics, there are two representatives and of the female one. The list is completed by coaches, judges and doctors. The common denominator is that they are all from Belarus, there are no Russians.

The FIG had detailed in November that any athlete who wished to obtain and compete under “individual neutral” status would have to submit an application. There was no information, so far, as to whether requests were made from the Russian Gymnastics Federation. The only official word was that of the top representative of the Trampoline, Nikolai Makarov, who made strong statements in the hours after the publication of the list with 30 authorized: “Currently, none of our athletes will accept the conditions proposed by the International Olympic Committee for their participation in the Olympic Games. We are evaluating the option of having our athletes obtain neutral status, but we have not yet made a definitive decision on the matter,” said Makarov.

The FIG will not provide details of individual requests. It is the responsibility of the respective National Federations to ensure that their requests are submitted following the conditions set out in the Ad Hoc Rules, with sufficient time for verification before an athlete can be registered for FIG events.

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