GENEVA – Russian athletes and officials who have been excluded from international sports competitions due to the war in Ukraine are protected, not punished, said on Friday the President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach.
Most sports organizations followed the IOC’s February 28 recommendations, four days after Russia launched the invasion, and withdrew teams and athletes from international competitions. In football, Russian teams have been removed from qualifying for the Men’s and Women’s World Cups.
Russian football is challenging these and other decisions in the Sports Arbitration Court, and Bach’s speech on Friday is likely to be repeated by lawyers at numerous hearings.
“I will emphasize once again that these are protective measures, not sanctions. Measures to protect the fairness of the competition, ”Bach told IOC members at an online meeting. “The security of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials cannot be guaranteed due to deep anti-Russian and anti-Belarusian feelings in many countries after the invasion.”
The sanctions should apply only to those “responsible for something,” Bach said, explaining why the IOC had deprived Russian officials of their Olympic medals – although he did not name Russian President Vladimir Putin – and advised the sport to postpone events to be held in Russia. .
The seriousness of the reaction to Russia and Belarus has raised questions – including from the FIFA football governing body – as to why other countries that have waged wars and even genocide have not faced such isolation before.
“The war in Ukraine is characterized by the fact that it is a gross violation of the Olympic truce,” Bach said of the modern revival of the ancient tradition of suspending hostilities and giving athletes safe passage before and after the Olympics.
In the weeks leading up to the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, United Nations member states, including Russia, approved a ceasefire document that would last until mid-March, following the Winter Paralympic Games.
Putin was in Beijing for the opening ceremony, when Russia has already deployed thousands of soldiers near the border with Ukraine.
Russia’s breach of the ceasefire is the third in 14 years. On the eve of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there was a military conflict with neighboring Georgia, and the country annexed Ukrainian territory in Crimea shortly after the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Bach also justified the reaction to the ban on Russian athletes by saying that “the far-reaching political, social and economic consequences of the war make it a turning point in world history.”
Bach distanced himself from Putin, with whom he was publicly close around the Sochi Olympics. These winter games were overshadowed by the state doping program in Russia.
“Relations (IOC) with the Russian political leadership have deteriorated sharply in recent years,” Bach said, referring to the doping scandal, cyber attacks by Russian hackers and “even personal threats to individuals,” which he did not specify.
Bach called for the protection of active and honorary members of the IOC of Russia, who were allowed to participate in the meeting on Friday on the Internet. Among them is two-time Olympic champion in pole vault Elena Isinbayeva, who is an officer in the Russian army.
The IOC did not dismiss Russian members who did not publicly criticize the war.
“There is no justice if you paint everyone with one brush,” Bach said, noting a new Russian law that could punish dissent with 15 years in prison. “We can understand that in such circumstances, silence itself can be a message.”
In recent weeks, Russian athletes who have publicly supported the war have been barred from international gymnastics and swimming competitions.
“We are closely watching who supports this war with their statements and actions,” Bach said. “We have made and will draw the necessary (conclusions).”
Bach did not say when Russian teams, athletes and officials will be disqualified from the 2024 Paris Olympics, but noted that it would be “time to rebuild bridges” through sport.
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