26 July 2023
A year before the Paris Olympic Games, officials overseeing many of the sports on the 2024 program have not agreed on how to treat Russian athletes.
Increasingly, different governing bodies are permitting Russian athletes to take part in Olympic competitions as neutral competitors without their national flag or anthem.
At first, most Olympic sports barred Russians from competing soon after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says it strongly supports those moves although the body says it has not decided if athletes from Russia and Belarus can compete at the Paris Games. However, the IOC has delayed action on the one sport whose qualification it controls: boxing.
Most of the sports that have permitted Russians to return followed IOC advice on what to call Russian athletes. They call them "individual neutral athletes." The sports groups are continuing to ban Russians who are under contract with the Russian military. They also ban athletes who have publicly supported the war in Ukraine. The IOC also suggests blocking Russia from team sports like soccer or basketball.
Ukraine is opposed to any Russians competing. Since last year, Ukrainian athletes and national teams have not been competing in events permitting Russians. The Ukrainian government banned its athletes in team sports to compete against Russian teams. Ukraine supporters have been looking through Russian athletes' social media accounts for pro-war posts that could disqualify them from competing.
Here is what the Associated Press says about the situation in a few major Olympic sports:
Track and field
The sports group World Athletics governs track and field sports. It banned athletes from Russia and Belarus from competitions after the invasion of Ukraine. That ban remains in place "for the foreseeable future," after a vote of the World Athletics governing group in March. President Sebastian Coe said at the time that deaths and destruction in Ukraine have only "hardened" the decision to keep a ban in place.
World Aquatics is the group that governs swimming. It is one of the sports taking Russia's return slowly. It has said it favors Russia and Belarus returning to its different sports, but it set up a group to study the issue, which will report in late July. That means no Russians can compete at the world championships this month in Japan.
Men's and women's tennis permits individual Russian or Belarusian players. But the sport punished some competitions, including Wimbledon, which enforced restrictions.
Ukrainian players continue to compete but often do not shake hands with Russians or Belarusians. Aryna Sabalenka is from Belarus. She won the Australian Open in January. She also has been questioned about her past support for Belarus' authoritarian leader, President Alexander Lukashenko. She has said she does not support the war.
Russian and Belarusian players are barred from national team competitions like the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup. The International Tennis Federation has not made a final decision on the Olympics. But it has a lot of time because qualification is decided by the June 2024 world positions.
Those that compete in the sport gymnastics from Russia and Belarus will be permitted to take part in sanctioned competitions as "individual neutral athletes" from the start of 2024.
The world Championships are to be held in early October in Belgium.
Russian gymnasts have been some of the loudest supporters of the war. Days after the invasion, Ivan Kuliak wore a pro-war "Z" symbol on a competition stand while next to a Ukrainian athlete. He was suspended for a year. Other Russian gymnasts appeared on stage at an event to support the war. And Olympic gold medalist Nikita Nagornyy heads a military youth organization in Russia.
The IOC supports banning Russia from team sports and no Olympic sport has gone against that decision. The IOC also suggests a ban on "team events in individual sports" like the team all-around in gymnastics.
I'm Anna Matteo. And I'm Gregory Stachel.
Gregory Stachel adapted this story based on reporting from Voice of America.
Words in This Story
athlete – n. a person who is trained in or good at sports, games, or exercises that require physical skill and strength
anthem – n. a song that praises a particular country and that is officially accepted as the country's song
qualify – v. to give (someone) the right to do, have, or be a part of something
foreseeable – v. to see or become aware of (something that has not yet happened)
authoritarian – adj. expecting or requiring people to obey rules or laws: not allowing personal freedom
sanction – v. to officially accept or allow (something)
symbol – n. a letter, group of letters, character, or picture that is used instead of a word or group of words