IOC Head Recommends Extending Sanctions Against Russian and Belarusian Athletes


Russian athlete Alexander Bolshunov at the medal ceremony, 2019 World Championships in Seefeld, Austria. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported here earlier this week, FIS Secretary General Michael Vion seemed potentially open to relaxing restrictions on Russian and Belarusian participation in events sanctioned by the International Ski Federation, a bar that has been in place since March 1 of this year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Vion signalled that FIS would likely take its lead from International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who, as Vion put it, was starting to think about “more or less open[ing] the door” to Russian and Belarusian athletes once more.

But on Wednesday, Bach said that it was “not the time” for the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, to change “any of our sanctions or protective measures” regarding Russian and Belarusian participation.

Speaking to the Association of National Olympic Committees in Seoul, the IOC President made it clear that he was trying to mediate between punishing athletes simply for the nationality of their passport, when they may have personally had nothing to do with the decision of their government, and responding to very real violations of the Olympic Charter.

On the one hand, Bach stated, the IOC issued sanctions “with a very heavy heart,” according to the official text of his remarks.

“Because [bars on Russian or Belarusian participation] concern athletes and sport officials who did not start this war, who are not responsible for this war. Athletes should never be the victims of policies of their own government,” Bach said.

On the other hand, Bach also noted the harm done to the principles and ideals of the Olympic Movement, beginning at the initial moment of the war on Ukraine and extending to the present. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine represents a blatant violation of the Olympic Truce that was in place for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022,” he noted. “By recently annexing Ukrainian territory, the Russian government has even deepened its violation of the Olympic Charter.”

The sanctions against Russian and Belarusian governments “must and will remain firmly in place” for the time being, Bach concluded. He also continued to recommend that Russian and Belarusian athletes not be allowed to participate in international competition.

Responding to larger criticisms of the IOC’s role, Bach stressed the importance of resisting the “full politicization of sport.”

But he also added, “we will … not fall into the trap of the propaganda machine that wants to make people believe that it is us who are violating the Olympic Charter. A propaganda machine that even goes so far to not call this conflict for what it is: a war. A propaganda machine which is reversing cause and effect.”

State-owned Russian news agency TASS reported earlier this week that a delegation from the Russian Olympic Committee would be attending the meetings in Seoul.

“We [as delegates] are the full-fledged participants of the Olympic Movement, but, unfortunately, we cannot say the same about our athletes, who are currently restricted in their right to participate in international tournaments,” ROC President Stanislav Pozdnyakov told TASS.

The FIS Council meeting that will decide on Russian and Belarusian participation will be held tomorrow, October 22. Bach’s recommendations on behalf of the IOC are just that, recommendations — but as Vion, the FIS representative, said last month, “FIS will not take on this decision without a strong recommendation from the IOC.”

Similarly, FIS President Johan Eliasch told Norwegian and Swedish broadcasters earlier today that FIS would follow IOC guidelines on Russian competition, while declining to share his personal views on Vladimir Putin or world politics.

“What the IOC and its all-powerful president Thomas Bach decide on, will be followed up by the FIS as well as other confederations with very few exceptions,” wrote one NRK commentator in a separate opinion piece.

— Gavin Kentch

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