The recommendation to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes from international sport was a “protective measure” rather than a sanction, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has said.
Athletes from those countries have largely been excluded from events organised by international sports federations recognised by the IOC since the recommendation was issued on February 28, four days after Russia invaded Ukraine abetted by Belarus.
Russia has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the decision by football’s world and European governing bodies, FIFA and UEFA, to exclude the country’s national teams and clubs from their competitions.
However, Bach said the decision had been taken to ensure the athletes’ safety, and was not to be considered a sanction or politically motivated.
“Let me emphasise again that these are protective measures – not sanctions – measures to protect the integrity of competitions,” he said in a speech to the IOC Session on Friday.
“The safety of the Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials could not be guaranteed because of the deep anti-Russian and anti-Belarusian feelings in so many countries following the invasion.”
He said the IOC could not in this case, and would never, bar athletes on political grounds.
“There are governments who are putting public and political pressure on national Olympic committees and national sports federations,” Bach said.
“Today it is Russia and Belarus, but if we do not act, tomorrow it will be the government from country A not wanting athletes from country B to participate.
“Or government C demanding its athletes not to compete against athletes from country D and so on and so forth.
“This would be a situation that is contrary to all the principles we are based on. If it is in the hands of politicians to decide who can take part in which competition, then the non-discriminatory foundation of our global sports system is gone. This would be the full politicisation of sport.
“This was and this is our dilemma. Because of this dilemma, we had to take these protective measures – albeit with a very heavy heart.”
He said the IOC was “monitoring closely” those who show support for the war with their statements and “will draw the necessary consequences”.
He highlighted the sanctions handed down by the international federations of gymnastics and swimming to Russian competitors.
He later added that no decision had yet been taken on Russian athletes’ participation in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, and said the IOC would have to take things “step by step”.
The German said at a press conference on Friday afternoon: “We do not know how the political situation evolves and how the war evolves. We hope that there will be peace soon, and hopefully as soon as possible. But we can just monitor the situation.”
Bach did describe the decision to recommend Russia and Belarus be stripped of hosting rights for international sports events, and the withdrawal of the Olympic Order awarded to Russian president Vladimir Putin, as a sanction.
There has been criticism for the fact that Russian officials Yelena Isinbayeva and Shamil Tarpischev have been allowed to remain as IOC members.
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