Olympic Committee suspends Russian organization over Ukraine move
By Tariq Panja
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended Russia’s Olympic organization last week — less than a year before the Paris Games — after Russia moved to make captured Ukrainian regions part of its national sports program.
The IOC said the Russian Olympic Committee had moved the previous week to incorporate sports bodies from four Ukrainian regions that it occupies, a breach of Olympic rules on territorial integrity.
Although the IOC’s punishment might look like a major shift in its stance on Russia, the committee stopped short of an outright ban on Russian athletes at the Paris Olympics. The IOC said it was sticking with recommendations it made in March that appeared to create a path for Russians not connected to the war to participate in the Games.
Last Thursday’s suspension is limited to Russia’s Olympic Committee, the IOC said in a news release announcing its penalties, meaning it is most likely limited to the organization and officials, not individual athletes.
Further details of the IOC’s plans for Russian and Belarusian athletes, who have also been banned because of their country’s involvement in the war effort, might become clearer at a meeting of its membership later this week in Mumbai, India. Global sports organizations have grappled with how to deal with Russian athletes and sports teams since the earliest days of the invasion of Ukraine, and the approach has not been consistent.
Some sports, including tennis, have welcomed athletes provided they do not display Russian insignia or colors and have not been found to have publicly supported Russia’s war effort. Others, particularly team sports, have maintained blanket bans.
European soccer’s governing body last week was forced to abandon a plan to reinstate Russian junior teams after widespread opposition from several member nations.
When it announced its plans in March, the IOC issued recommendations to its member sports federations suggesting they allow Russian athletes to participate in international events — which typically function as qualifying events for the Games — as “neutrals.”
That position met with immediate opposition from Ukraine and a group of largely Western nations that continue to demand a prohibition on any Russian presence at the Olympics while the war continues.
The IOC said last Thursday that a week earlier, Russia had brought sports organizations from four regions in eastern Ukraine — Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia — under the auspices of its national Olympic committee.
It said its executive board, which made the decision to suspend Russia, “also reserves the right to take any further decision or measure depending on the development of this situation.”
Designating “neutral” athletes who are free of connections to Russia’s war effort is not an easy task.
Dozens of Russian athletes are part of the country’s military or have been trained by it. Others have been conscripted to its cause since the start of the invasion. And according to a review by The Associated Press, the country’s Olympic success is inextricably linked to its military: Of the 71 medals won by Russian athletes at the last Summer Olympics, in Tokyo in 2021, 45 were collected by athletes affiliated with the Central Sports Club of the Army, the largest of Russia’s military-affiliated clubs.
And those not directly funded by the armed forces have also come under scrutiny, including popular sports stars and medal winners who have been invited to parades celebrating the armed forces. Wrestling’s governing body, which is led by a member of the IOC’s executive board, faced sharp questions after one such group of former champions was cleared to participate in its championships.