The governments of 35 nations released a statement on Monday asking the IOC to clarify the definition of “neutrality” as it seeks a way to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to international sports and, eventually, next year’s Paris Olympics.
“Until these fundamental issues and the significant lack of clarity and concrete details of a workable ‘neutrality’ model are addressed, we do not agree that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed back into competition,” the statement said.
Among those who signed the declaration were officials from the United States, Great Britain, France, Canada and Germany. These five countries brought almost a fifth of all athletes to the 2021 Tokyo Games. Other countries that had proposed an Olympic boycott was possible if the war continues – such as Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Denmark – also signed the statement, which did not go so far as to mention a boycott.
The statement was the result of a February 10 summit in London between government leaders, which heard from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Zelenskyy said Russian athletes had no place at the Paris Games as long as the country’s invasion of Ukraine continued.
The International Olympic Committee is trying to find a way to allow Russians to participate in the Olympics, citing the opinion of UN human rights experts who believe that Russians and Belarusians should not be discriminated against simply because of their passports. The IOC wants competitors from countries that have not supported the war to be able to compete as neutral athletes, without symbols of their countries being allowed.
Assistant Secretary of State Lee Satterfield signed the statement on behalf of the United States. In a separate statement, she emphasized the need for the IOC to provide clarity in the definition of neutrality.
“The United States will continue to join a large community of nations to hold Russia and Belarus — and the bad actors dictating their actions — accountable for this brutal war,” Satterfield said. “Russia has proven time and again that it does not pay attention to and is not able to follow the rules – in international sports and in international law.”
While acknowledging that there was an argument for them to compete as neutral athletes, the authorities noted in the joint statement how closely sports and politics are intertwined in Russia and Belarus. Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago Friday and Belarus has been Russia’s closest ally.
“We have strong concerns about how it is possible for Russian and Belarusian Olympic athletes to compete as ‘neutrals’ – under IOC terms without identification with their country – when they are directly funded and supported by their states (as opposed to e.g. professional tennis players), the statement says. “The strong links and affiliations between Russian athletes and the Russian military are also of clear concern. Our collective approach has therefore never been discrimination on the basis of nationality alone, but these strong concerns must be addressed by the IOC.”
When the war started, the IOC recommended that sports organizations ban Russians from competition, labeling it as a measure for the safety of these athletes. This attitude changed at the start of this year. Last week, IOC President Thomas Bach said the IOC stood in solidarity with Ukraine’s athletes, but also that sport must respect the human rights of all athletes.
“History will show who does more for peace. Those who try to keep lines open, to communicate, or those who want to isolate or divide, Bach said.
An IOC spokesman said the committee was waiting to comment until it saw the official statement.
Also last week, EU lawmakers condemned the IOC’s attempt to reintegrate Russia into world sport. The European Parliament called on the 27 member states to pressure the IOC to reverse its decision, saying the Olympic body’s approach was “an embarrassment to the international sporting world”.
Monday’s statement, while asking for clarity from the IOC, said the quickest way for Russia to return to the international sporting stage would be “by ending the war they started”.
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