The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will maintain its sanctions against Russia and Belarus as the Russian invasion and occupation of swathes of eastern Ukraine continue.
After an IOC executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, held over the last couple of days, the body’s president Thomas Bach confirmed as such in a press conference.
The executive board has unanimously “reaffirmed the clear position of the IOC that these sanctions must remain firmly in place”, the IOC said.
The sanctions were first issued in early March after the Russian invasion of Ukraine – with material assistance from Belarus.
They entail condemnation of those two countries breaking the Olympic Truce, the banning of Russian and Belarusian teams from competing at organized IOC sporting events, and no symbols (flag, anthem, colors) from the two nations “being displayed at any sports event or meeting.”
Bach said at a press conference: “As I have stated many times, the sanctions must remain firmly in place …”
He also said, on the subject of whether individual Russian and Belarusian athletes should continue to be banned from competing as neutrals in Olympic events (the current status): “The question of the participating of athletes is very different from the question of sanctions for their government …
“The participation of athletes in sports events can only be on sporting merit and with those athletes who respect the rules of sport. We cannot allow governments to decide on political grounds who can participate. This would put the international sports model at risk …”
He said that the decision to ban Russians and Belarusians from competing in the 2022 Winter Paralympics in March, even under a neutral flag, was taken because of governmental pressure from some countries.
Bach added, on this front, that he is looking to resolve this issue by exploring “ways to overcome this dilemma with regard to athlete participation.”
On the subject of Russian involvement in premier sporting events, Bach also took the opportunity to criticize the banning of Russian tennis players from last year’s iconic Wimbledon grand slam tournament.
The decision taken by British tennis’ Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) resulted in a backlash from tennis’ worldwide governing bodies, joined now by Bach.
The IOC president said, referring first to the events which hadn’t banned individual athletes from Russia: “We had the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the US Open in tennis. We have Russian athletes participating in the NHL. They are cheered upon by the fans, and everybody is happy. On the other hand, we had Wimbledon, the British government interfering and forcing the Wimbledon organizers to exclude Russian and Belarusian players.
“Governments should not decide on political grounds who are participating in which sports events. The qualification for sports events must be on sporting merits and not on political interference.”
The LTA has now been fined by both the men’s ATP and women’s WTA tours for this ban, and it has been reported that its British events outside Wimbledon may face expulsion from those tours if the ban is repeated this year.
Both tours fined the LTA $750,000 each, while the UK government backed the LTA’s decision.
The Times newspaper has now reported that the ban could well be lifted in time for next year’s UK tennis season, given that the Russian players who competed at other events made no obvious political gestures supporting their country’s invasion of Ukraine, the prospect of which had been a significant concern for the LTA.
It was also confirmed during the IOC’s executive board meeting that the selection of a host for the 2030 Winter Olympics will be delayed from the original intended slot of the body’s 2023 session.
This is the result of a decision to give the IOC’s future host commission for the Olympic Winter Games more time to “further study the landscape of winter sport” in the context of sustainability and climate change.
The executive board heard a report from the future host commission for the winter Olympics, outlining “a number of proposals and challenges around hosting … which could have an impact on future elections …”
The IOC has said the allowance of more time for that commission to make recommendations “will assist in providing a clearer picture for a sound decision for the host of the Olympic Winter Games 2030.”
Confirmed bids have so far come from Salt Lake City in the US and Sapporo in Japan, while potential other bidding nations include Kazakhstan, Canada, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and France.
Some of the challenges outlined by the report include a potential reduction in the number of “climate-reliable hosts”; ongoing discussions around adjustments to winter sports calendars; and the potential to rotate the Winter Olympics between a pool of hosts.
There has also been a proposal that hosts would need “to show average minimum temperatures of below zero degrees for snow competition venues at the time of the Games over a 10-year period.”
Octavian Morariu, the IOC member in charge of that commission, said: “The new, flexible approach to electing Olympic hosts was designed so the IOC could respond swiftly and effectively to ever-changing global circumstances …”
The IOC also discussed the potential for awarding hosting rights to the 2030 and 2034 Winter Olympics at the same time, “to create stability for winter sports”, and has said it will explore this more.