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Russian, Belarusian athletes to participate at Paris Olympics as neutrals

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says Russian and Belarusian athletes who qualify in their sport for the 2024 Paris Games can take part as neutrals without flags, emblems or anthems at the event next year.

Russians and Belarusians had initially been banned from competing internationally following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, for which Belarus has been used as a staging ground.

In March, however, the IOC issued a first set of recommendations for international sports federations to allow Russian and Belarusian competitors to return and they have since done so in most events.

Athletics, arguably the biggest Olympic sport, is unlikely to open the door for either country to return to competition, however, after banning them following the invasion and sticking to this stance on Friday.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba condemned what he said was a “shameful” IOC decision, while Russia’s Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin called the conditions set by the IOC for Russian athletes’ participation at the Olympics “discriminatory”.

“The Executive Board (EB) of the IOC has decided that Individual Neutral Athletes (AINs) who have qualified through the existing qualification systems of the International Federations (IFs) on the field of play will be declared eligible to compete at the Olympic Games Paris 2024,” the IOC said in a statement.

“Individual Neutral Athletes are athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport.”

The neutral athletes will only compete in individual sports and no teams for the two countries will be allowed.

Athletes who actively support the war in Ukraine are not eligible, nor are those contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military.

The IOC also said no Russian or Belarusian government or state official would be invited to or accredited for Paris 2024.

But athletes, it added, should not be punished for the actions of their governments.

While Paris Games organisers “took note” of the IOC decision, it drew angry responses from Ukraine and Russia.

“The IOC essentially gave Russia the green light to weaponise the Olympics,” Ukraine’s foreign minister Kuleba wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

“Because the Kremlin will use every Russian and Belarusian athlete as a weapon in its propaganda warfare. I urge all partners to strongly condemn this shameful decision, which undermines Olympic principles.”

Ukraine’s acting Sports Minister Matviy Bidnyy said his country’s participation at the Paris Games would be decided after talks with the political and sports leadership.

“Regarding Ukraine’s participation in the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, we will make a decision later, after consulting with the Ukrainian sports community and the country’s top political leadership,” Bidnyy said.

Reuters