IOC’s Bach says IOC and Olympic Games cannot be referees in political disputes

IOC’s Bach says IOC and Olympic Games cannot be referees in political disputes
Yulia Apanasovich (red) of Belarus faces Alexandra Ana Maria Gheorghe of Romania in their Round of 32 bout of elite women 50-52kg fly weight category at the IBA World Women's Boxing Championships in New Delhi, India, on 16 March 2023. The International Boxing Association decided to let athletes from Russia and Belarus compete under their own flag, being the only Olympic sport to do so. (Photo: EPA-EFE/RAJAT GUPTA)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says it does not want to be a “referee” in global political disputes around warring countries, despite a long history of sport and politics colliding.

The Olympic Games and its ruling body, the IOC, cannot be referees in global political disputes, said its president Thomas Bach on Wednesday, defending the IOC’s plans to include Russian and Belarusian athletes at the Paris 2024 Games.

Speaking at a political forum, Bach said the Games should stay away from politics, otherwise they would lose their uniting powers, citing examples of past boycotts in the 1970s and 1980s.

“If politics decides who can take part in a competition, then sport and athletes become tools of politics. It is then impossible for sport to transfer its uniting powers,” Bach said in his speech.

“We must be politically neutral but not apolitical. We know well that politics rules the world. We know well that our decisions have political implications, and we have to include that in our thinking,” he said.

“But we should not make the mistake to raise ourselves to referees of political disputes because we will be crushed by these political powers.”

Read more in Daily Maverick:Latvia would not send athletes to Olympics if Russia and Belarus included

The IOC issued sanctions against Russia and Belarus, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. But is now reluctant to exclude their athletes from the Olympics entirely, for fear of a return to the boycotts of the Cold War era.

It set out a pathway in January for competitors from Russia and Belarus to earn Olympic slots through Asian qualifying, and to compete as neutral athletes in Paris next year.

Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, looks on during the medal ceremony for Men’s All-Around Final on day seven of the 2022 Gymnastics World Championships in Liverpool, on 4 November 2022. (Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Neutral athletes

Neutral athletes are not considered to be representing their nations, and their successes are not accompanied by the flying of flags or playing of national anthems.


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Some federations have since readmitted Russians and Belarusians in competitions, but there is also considerable opposition to the IOC’s plans.

“Ukraine wants, and this is a direct quote ‘the total isolation of all Russians’,” said Bach, as some of the audience applauded.

“We are in a dilemma,” Bach said. “We feel, suffer with and understand the Ukrainian people and athletes. On the other hand, we have, as a global organisation, a responsibility towards human rights and the Olympic Charter.

“Both do not allow such a total isolation of people with a specific passport.”

Demonstrators opposing participation

A few dozen demonstrators, including Ukrainian refugees, gathered outside the concert hall before Bach’s speech, to oppose any participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes at the Paris Games.

They held pictures of bombed sporting sites and banners calling for a complete ban of Russian and Belarusian athletes.

Ukraine, which has spearheaded the call to ban these athletes, has also threatened with a boycott, should they be allowed to compete there. No final decision has been taken yet. Reuters/DM


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