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Sports policy: ban or boycott: Russia debate splits the Olympic world

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Ukraine is threatening a boycott if Russians are allowed to take part in the Paris Olympics. The IOC, however, sees its duty. German sport is also struggling with the delicate debate.

The controversy surrounding Russia’s athletes is dividing the Olympic world. With its boycott threat and constant verbal attacks on Thomas Bach, Ukraine is putting pressure on the International Olympic Committee.

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But the IOC is sticking to its course. The athletes from Russia and its supporter Belarus, who have been banned from international competitions in most sports since the start of the war of aggression against Ukraine a year ago, are said to be allowed to compete again soon.

Why does the IOC want to bring the athletes back from Russia and Belarus at all?

The umbrella organization refers to human rights. No athlete should be permanently banned because of their nationality. The IOC explains that Russians and Belarusians are also not liable for the decisions of their country’s politicians. The IOC also refers to a requirement of the United Nations. In addition, IOC President Bach emphasizes: “Our role is to bring people together.” It is not up to governments to decide who takes part in sporting competitions. “It would be the end of international competitions like the Olympic Games and other title fights,” says Bach. He sees himself confirmed in this by the attitude of many associations outside Europe, for which the war does not play a major role.

Under what conditions should Russians and Belarusians be allowed to take part in international competitions again?

Russian and Belarusian flags, the anthems and national symbols remain banned on the international sports arenas. The representatives of both countries are only allowed to participate again as neutral athletes. This is how it works in tennis tournaments, among other things. Officials from sports associations in both countries and politicians are denied access to the competitions. The IOC also repeatedly affirms that a decision has not yet been made on whether athletes from Russia and Belarus will participate in the Olympics.

How is Ukraine dealing with the IOC push?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy summed it up in a recent speech: “While Russia is killing and terrorizing, representatives of this terrorist state have no place in sports and Olympic competitions.” Many athletes in the country are also angry about the IOC’s plans and point out that a number of Ukrainian athletes have already been killed in the fighting for their homeland. Former world boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko rejected IOC boss Bach’s view that sport should be separated from politics. “Everything has to do with each other. Sport has a lot to do with the war,” says Klitschko. Should Russians be admitted to the Olympics, Ukraine is threatening to boycott the summer games in Paris.

How serious is the boycott threat?

Forgoing Olympic participation is at least one of several options, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba recently told the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”. According to a decision made in early February, the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine is keeping open a boycott as a last resort. First of all, however, the Ukrainians want to do everything to ensure that Russians and Belarusians are not allowed to take part in the Olympics. “We have a great desire not to see them as long as the war doesn’t end with our victory,” says Sports Minister and NOK boss Wadym Hutzajt.

What does the IOC think of the boycott announcement?

The IOC has criticized Ukraine’s Olympic boycott threat and called it premature. The IOC said the threat violated the fundamentals of the Olympic movement and the principles it stands for.

How is the international sports community reacting to the debate?

After the beginning of the Ukraine war, the majority of the international top associations excluded Russian and Belarusian athletes from starting in competitions and title fights. Individual sports organizations such as the World Tennis Association, on the other hand, have allowed players to continue to participate in tournaments as neutral athletes. The IOC initiative to allow Russians and Belarusians to return as neutral athletes met with some approval and some rejection from the world federations. The German canoe world association president Thomas Konietzko does not want to follow the IOC’s plan unreservedly. The World Athletics Federation is still against a return. The Association of National Olympic Committees in Asia has advocated reintegration. Russians and Belarusians are set to start the Asian Games with neutral status.

Where does German sport stand in the dispute?

The German Olympic Sports Confederation only wants to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to take part in international competitions under strict conditions. The DOSB demands that athletes who fought in the war or openly supported the war should remain sanctioned. In addition, the sanctions against the two states and governments must be strictly maintained. The association “Athleten Deutschland” rejects the return of athletes from both countries as premature. Even among the top associations there is no uniform picture.

What do German sports politicians say?

The Federal Ministry of the Interior has joined the demand of sports politicians from 35 nations for the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Olympics in Paris. Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) describes participation in international competitions as “hardly placeable”. The chairman of the Bundestag Sports Committee, Frank Ullrich (SPD), also considers this to be a “wrong signal”.

And how do the Russians argue?

Russia’s sports leaders welcome the IOC’s initiative, but at the same time are demanding unrestricted re-admission. Russians must be able to compete in international competitions and Olympic Games on the same terms as any other athlete, said Stanislav Pozdnyakov, president of Russia’s National Olympic Committee. Russia has been excluded as a nation from the summer and winter games since 2016 because of widespread doping and data manipulation in the Moscow analysis laboratory. However, the IOC has since created the possibility for athletes from Russia to start as neutral athletes without a flag and anthem.

Source: Stern

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