The governments of 35 countries issued a statement on Monday calling on the International Olympic Committee to clarify the definition of “neutrality” as it looks for a way to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to international sports and, ultimately, the Paris Olympics next year.
“As long as these fundamental issues and the significant lack of clarity and concrete detail regarding the working model of ‘neutrality’ are not addressed, we do not agree that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed to return to competition,” Read the statement.
Among the signatories to the statement are officials from the United States, Britain, France, Canada and Germany. Those five countries brought nearly a fifth of all athletes to the Tokyo Games in 2021. Other countries that have proposed boycotting the Olympics It was possible if the war continued – as Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Denmark – also signed the Manifesto, which did not go so far as to mention a boycott.
The statement was the product of a February 10 summit in London between government leaders who heard from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelensky said that Russian athletes have no place in the Paris Olympics as long as the country’s invasion of Ukraine continues.
The International Olympic Committee is trying to find a way to allow Russians into the Olympics, citing the opinion of United Nations human rights experts who believe that Russians and Belarusians should not face discrimination simply for obtaining their passports. The International Olympic Committee wants competitors from those countries that did not support the war to be able to compete as neutral athletes, with their countries’ symbols not allowed.
Assistant Secretary of State Lee Satterfield signed the statement on behalf of the United States. In a separate statement, she stressed the need for the International Olympic Committee to provide clarification on 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 who dictate their actions — accountable for this brutal war,” Satterfield said. “Russia has proven, time and time again, that it does not care about the rules and is unable to follow them – in international sport and in international law.”
While acknowledging that there is a case for them to compete as neutral athletes, the government officials noted in the joint statement how intertwined sports and politics are in Russia and Belarus. Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago on Friday and Belarus has been Russia’s closest ally.
“We have strong concerns about the feasibility of Russian and Belarusian Olympic athletes competing as ‘neutral’ – under the IOC’s terms of non-identification with their country – when they are funded and supported directly by their countries (as opposed to, say, professional tennis players) The strong links and affiliations between Russian athletes and the Russian military are also of obvious concern. So our collective approach throughout has not been one based on discrimination simply on the basis of nationality, but these strong concerns need to be addressed by the IOC.”
When the war began, the International Olympic Committee recommended that sports organizations ban Russians from participating in competitions, calling it a measure of the safety of these athletes. This situation changed at the beginning of this year. Last week, IOC President Thomas Bach said the IOC was in solidarity with Ukrainian athletes, but that sport must also 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 it was waiting for comment until it saw the official statement.
Also last week, European Union deputies condemned the International Olympic Committee’s efforts to reintegrate Russia into world sports. The EU parliament asked the 27 member states to pressure the IOC to reverse its decision and said the Olympic body’s approach “is an embarrassment to the international sporting world”.
Monday’s statement, while calling for clarification from the IOC, said the quickest way for Russia to return to the international sporting arena would be “by ending the war they started”.
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