Pressure mounts as world condemns IOC decision on Russian, Belarusian athletes at 2024 Olympic Games

Despite the horrific events in Ukraine, some sporting organisations are attempting to normalise relations with Russia and Belarus.

In 1979, the Soviet Union launched a military incursion into Afghanistan. During the invasion, the Soviets attempted to “shore up the newly-established pro-Soviet regime” in Afghanistan. The Soviets believed that they would swiftly take over the country, and that they would be able to support the pro-Soviet government.

What transpired, however, was a brutal ten-year war. Thousands of Afghans would be killed, and the Soviets would ravage various parts of the country. The international community swiftly condemned the invasion, but the Soviets did not leave Afghanistan.

As a result, the globe pursued another avenue to express its disapproval. In 1980, nearly 70 countries announced they would boycott the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in Moscow. These countries, spanning various regions of the world, said that they would not participate in the global competition held by the Soviet Union.

In addition, many international media outlets canceled their coverage of the Olympic Games. The world would not reward the Soviets for their behaviour, and the international community took a stand against these Soviet acts of aggression.

Continued aggression

Forty years later, the Russians have continued these acts of aggression. As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its second year, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have died. One-fourth of Ukraine’s total population is displaced, and numerous Ukrainian cities and villages have been destroyed. Russia’s war does not appear to have an apparent end, and Belarus has collaborated with Russia during the invasion.

Despite these horrific events, some organisations have attempted to normalise relations with Russia. On January 25, the International Olympic Committee announced it would allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. The IOC Executive Board stated that “no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport,” although it noted that the Russians and Belarusians would need to compete under a neutral flag.

Then, on March 28, the IOC stated that it would create options allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes opportunities to “earn places in new year’s [Olympic] Games.” IOC President Thomas Bach defended the organisation’s decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in the 2024 Olympics. Bach also argued that some sporting competitions have already allowed Russians to compete in their events.

Others have stated that Russian and Belarusian athletes should not be punished for the actions of their governments. These supporters believe Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed to compete because they do not represent their governments’ positions. They say these athletes are not responsible for Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Some sports take a stance

But other organisations and groups have stood firm against these points. In February 2022, FIFA and UEFA suspended the Russian men’s and women’s national teams and football clubs from participating in FIFA and UEFA competitions. To date, FIFA and UEFA have upheld this decision. For example, the Russian men’s national team will not compete in the qualification cycle for the men’s 2024 European Championships nor the women’s 2023 FIFA World Cup.

World Athletics has also upheld its ban on Russian athletes. The sporting body recently announced that “athletes from Russia and Belarus would remain prohibited from competition, including qualification for the Olympic Games,” and that this stance would not be altered until Russia ends its war.

Finally, article 44.3 of the 2021 Olympic Charter states that no one “is entitled … to participate in the Olympic Games.” This clause should be applied to Russia and Belarus. Should athletes from these countries be allowed to participate, this could lead to a dangerous precedent. It would suggest that relations between Russia and the world are normalising. This could lead to greater appeasement to the Russians while they continue their unjust war in Ukraine.

If these arguments are not heard, and if the IOC proceeds with its decision, then the international community should take a stand, one that is similar to 1980. The Russians should not be allowed to participate in one of the world’s largest sporting events. The Russian Federation has committed thousands of atrocities in Ukraine, and numerous countries have expressed outrage.

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A boycott remains possible

To date, 40 countries have condemned the IOC’s decision on Russian and Belarusian athletes. The list of countries includes the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Baltic states, Poland, and Ukraine. Even France, the host of next year’s Olympic Games, has condemned the IOC’s decision. According to Kamil Bortniczuk, Poland’s Minister of Sport and Tourism, these countries may even boycott next year’s competition.

If these countries were to proceed, and if they were to boycott the competition, this would result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. The IOC would be left embarrassed by this decision, and some of the world’s greatest athletes could be missing from the Games.

But some things are more important than profit and sports. Should the IOC decide to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at next year’s Games, a boycott would reiterate the globe’s commitment to aid Ukraine during its time of need. It would suggest that the international community will do everything possible to help Ukraine, and that the world will continue to stand against Russian aggression.

The world has shown that it is ready to defend Ukraine in its time of need, including a boycott of the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. What will the IOC decide?

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