The International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has made a comment that has brought to light the improbability of the world accepting the Russia-Ukraine war as a world event and not just a European one.
On March 30, Bach called “deplorable” the criticism by European governments of the push to reintegrate Russian and Belarusian athletes into world sports before the 2024 Paris Games.
According to agency reports, the IOC president also suggested those governments which seemed to include his own home country Germany — had “double standards” for focusing on athletes from countries involved in just one of about 70 wars and armed conflicts ongoing in the world.
Bach detailed IOC advice to individual Olympic sports bodies of conditions by which they could decide to approve individual Russian or Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes, while continuing a ban from team sports.
The IOC said sports should exclude athletes who have military links, though Bach clarified on March 30 that this likely should not apply to those who did one year of mandatory service. “We have taken note of some negative reactions by some European governments in particular,” Bach said at a news conference after an IOC executive board meeting.
Germany sports minister Nancy Faeser had said earlier that the IOC’s shift from its position a year ago to exclude all athletes and teams from Russia and Belarus as “a slap in the face of Ukrainian athletes.”
“Those who let the warmonger Russia use international competitions for its propaganda are damaging the Olympic idea of peace and international understanding,” Faeser said, echoing previous comments from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and allies including Poland.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry had said that the IOC “avoids the topic of (Russian) war crimes” and showed “wilful ignorance of the war reality.”
Bach responded it was deplorable that some governments “do not want to respect the majority within the Olympic movement and of all the stakeholders nor the autonomy of sport which they are praising and requesting from other countries. It’s deplorable that these governments don’t address the question of double standards with which we have been confronted,” the German lawyer said.
“We have not seen a single comment from them about their attitude about the participation of athletes whose countries are involved in the other 70 wars and armed conflicts in the world.”
The Paris Olympics is the fifth straight Summer or Winter Games since the steroid-tainted 2014 Sochi Olympics where Russia has faced calls to be excluded or must compete as a neutral team without national symbols such as the flag and anthem. The previous sanctions were because of state-backed doping and cover-ups.
Still, criticism of sports officials was only hardening their stance against lawmakers, Bach suggested, and “strengthened the unity.”
“It cannot be up to the governments to decide which athletes can participate in which competition,” he said.
The final decision on which Russian and Belarusian teams can compete in international events, including qualification for the Paris Olympics, is for the governing bodies of individual sports.
One sport body to follow Bach was the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) which said Russian and Belarusians could compete again as neutrals as soon as May.
The ITTF cited the example of “ping pong diplomacy,” when American table tennis players travelled to China in 1971 to play exhibition games which helped thaw relations between their countries.
However, World Athletics said last week it will continue its more than year-long exclusion for “the foreseeable future.”
Two IOC members with connections to the Russian military — including women’s pole vault world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva, who has an army rank — have had their status referred to the Olympic body’s ethics commission for evaluation, Bach said.
The IOC ethics panel chaired by former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has no power to impose sanctions and can only recommend actions to the Bach-chaired executive board.
Ban visited Bucha in Ukraine last August and called the mass killings there by Russian forces a “horrendous atrocity” and a crime against humanity.