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IOC says Russian, Belarusian athletes can compete at Paris Olympics

The athletes had initially been banned from competing internationally following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has given the green light to the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the games next year as neutrals.

Russian and Belarusian athletes who qualify in their sport for the Paris 2024 Olympics will be able to take part without flags, emblems or anthems, outside of team events and as long as they do not actively support the war in Ukraine, the IOC said on Friday.

The athletes had initially been banned from competing internationally following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but have since been gradually allowed back as neutral athletes in most sport.

The IOC said eight Russians and three Belarusians are among 4,600 athletes worldwide who have so far qualified for the Summer Games, which open in July.

They will only be allowed to compete in individual sports and no teams for the two countries will be allowed to participate in Paris.

More than 60 Ukrainian athletes have qualified for next year’s Paris Olympics. A total of about 11,000 athletes will take part in the games next year.

Athletes and officials from Ukraine, including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, have repeatedly urged the IOC to exclude Russia and Belarus entirely.

However, representatives of international sports federations and national Olympic committees had called for Russian and Belarusian athletes to be admitted under a neutral flag “as soon as possible”.

Ukraine’s Sport Minister Matviy Bidnyi told the AFP news agency in advance of the decision on Thursday that Kyiv was concerned the move gave the impression that the IOC “does not want to demonstrate the necessary leadership in the matter of Olympic fairness and justice”.

“As aptly stated by President Volodymyr Zelensky: ‘Obviously, any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood,’” said Bidnyi.

“When there is a war and one nation with its passports is destroying another nation, then ‘neutrality’ becomes irresponsibility,” he said, adding that giving up their Russian passport was “the only possible way today for an athlete to prove Olympic excellence is his first priority”.

Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the IOC of using the games as a form of “ethnic discrimination”.