Clarity required on evolving IOC stance
Published on February 21st, 2023
As an Olympic sport, Sailing is impacted by the Ukrainian war. Following the recommendation by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in February 2022 to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from competition, the IOC is now waffling.
With national qualifying underway for the Paris 2024 Olympics, the IOC is seeking a way to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes back into international sports, while it is sports federations such as World Sailing that organize the qualifying events.
But the sports federations are caught in the crossfire between the IOC and National Olympic Committees which operate under the authority of their government, and now 35 nations are calling on the IOC to clarify its position.
Considering that the actions by Russia which prompted the ban a year ago have become more egregious, it is a fair question to ask. While the IOC worries the ban is a human rights violation, that position is not too compassionate toward the plight of Ukraine.
The alliance of nations issued a statement which details the timeline of the war and the clarifications asked of the IOC:
(February 21, 2023) – Ministerial and senior representatives from our collective group of nations met on Friday 10 February. We were honored to be joined by President Zelenskyy, who outlined the ongoing devastation being inflicted on Ukraine, including its sports infrastructure and athletes, due to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustifiable war of choice, facilitated by the Belarusian government.
We reaffirmed our nations’ two previous collective statements of 8 March 2022 and 4 July 2022, and discussed the statement of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of 25 January 2023.
We welcomed the IOC’s reaffirmation and reinforcement of their existing sanctions in place, and their statement committing to solidarity and support for Ukrainian athletes and the Ukrainian Olympic Committee.
While recognizing the autonomy of sports bodies, given the invasion of Ukraine and its devastation is ongoing, we agreed that the IOC’s proposal on exploring a pathway back to competition for individual Russian and Belarusian athletes raises many questions and concerns.
In its statement of 28 February 2022, the IOC recommended that Russian and Belarusian athletes not compete, in part because “many athletes from Ukraine are prevented from doing so [participating in sport events] because of the attack on their country.”
Wherever such an exclusion was not possible on short notice for organizational or legal reasons, the IOC recommended that Russian or Belarusian nationals should be accepted only as neutral athletes and that no national symbols, colors, flags or anthems should be displayed.
We noted that the situation on the ground in Ukraine has only worsened since this statement.
We firmly believe that, given there has been no change in the situation regarding the Russian aggression in Ukraine, and as an imperative for fairness and solidarity towards the Ukrainian athletes whose facilities have been destroyed and who have had to leave their country (or stay to fight for the defense of Ukraine in which very many have lost their lives), there is no practical reason to move away from the exclusion regime for Russian and Belarusian athletes set by the IOC in their statement of 28 February 2022.
We also noted that through their choices, action and ongoing invasion Russia broke the Olympic Truce that has been continuously supported by the United Nations General Assembly since 1993.
In our collective statement of 4 July 2022, in view of the non-discrimination principle, we recognized that Russian and Belarusian nationals could be allowed to compete as ‘neutral’ individuals, subject to conditions to ensure they are clearly not representing their states.
However, in Russia and Belarus sport and politics are closely intertwined. We have strong concerns on how feasible it is for Russian and Belarusian Olympic athletes to compete as ‘neutrals’ – under the IOC’s conditions of no identification with their country – when they are directly funded and supported by their states (unlike, for example, professional tennis players).
The strong links and affiliations between Russian athletes and the Russian military are also of clear concern. Our collective approach throughout has therefore never been one of discrimination simply on the basis of nationality, but these strong concerns need to be dealt with by the IOC.
As long as these fundamental issues and the substantial lack of clarity and concrete detail on a workable ‘neutrality’ model are not addressed, we do not agree that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed back into competition.
Noting the IOC’s stated position that no final decisions have been made, we strongly urge the IOC to address the questions identified by all countries and reconsider its proposal accordingly.
We also note that Russia and Belarus have it in their own hands to pave the way for their athletes’ full return to the international sports community, namely by ending the war they started.
Paris 2024 Olympic Sailing Program:
Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7
Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6
Mixed Two Person Dinghy – 470
Men’s Skiff – 49er
Women’s Skiff – 49erFx
Men’s Kiteboard – Formula Kite Class
Women’s Kiteboard – Formula Kite Class
Men’s Windsurfing – iQFoil
Women’s Windsurfing – iQFoil
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17
Venue: Marseille, France
Dates: July 26-August 11