Tensions surrounding Russian athletes' participation in the upcoming Paris Olympics continue to linger, as various governing bodies grapple with the question of how to treat them in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine nearly a year and a half ago.
While some sports have allowed Russian athletes to return to Olympic qualifying competitions as "individual neutral athletes" without national flags or anthems, others remain skeptical. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been backing the return of Russian athletes as neutral competitors, although it has yet to make a final decision on whether athletes from Russia and ally Belarus will be allowed to compete in the Paris Games.
Interestingly, the IOC has delayed action on boxing, which falls under its direct jurisdiction. Ukraine staunchly opposes any Russian participation in the Olympics, leading Ukrainian athletes and national teams to boycott competitions that permit Russian athletes to compete.
Ukrainian activists have even been scrutinizing Russian athletes' social media for pro-war sentiments that could disqualify them from competing.
Russian and Ukrainian Athletes: Olympic Sport Scenarios
Let's delve into the situation for Russian and Ukrainian athletes in key Olympic sports: In track and field, World Athletics has maintained its exclusion of athletes from Russia and Belarus from competitions following the invasion, with President Sebastian Coe firmly asserting the continuation of the ban.
World Aquatics has been cautious about Russia's return and set up a task force to assess the situation. Consequently, no Russian athletes in Japan will participate in the world championships in swimming, diving, water polo, or artistic swimming this month.
Tennis is a notable exception among Olympic sports, as the tours of men and women did not exclude Russian or Belarusian players when the invasion occurred. However, Russian and Belarusian players remain restricted from national team competitions like the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup.
Gymnastics will permit Russian and Belarusian gymnasts to take part in sanctioned competitions as "individual neutral athletes" starting in 2024, after the world championships. Boxing, which falls under the IOC's direct control, faces delays in deciding whether Russian athletes will qualify for the Paris Games.
Combat sports like fencing, judo, and taekwondo have experienced heated disputes. Ukraine boycotted world championships in judo and taekwondo after Russian athletes were allowed to compete. The International Judo Federation faced criticism for including Russian athletes employed at state sports training facilities in their "neutral" delegation.
As for team sports, the IOC supports excluding Russia from participating in soccer, volleyball, basketball, and handball at the Paris Olympics. No Olympic sport has defied this regulation thus far. Other sports have seen varying degrees of delays and restrictions.
Russia is boycotting weightlifting events, while sports like archery and canoeing are exploring plans for a Russian return. The situation remains fluid, with decisions being made gradually as the Paris Olympics approach. Governing bodies continue to navigate the complexities surrounding Russian athletes' participation while balancing geopolitical considerations and sporting integrity.