The UK Government has come out in support of the decision from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete as neutral athletes at the games.

Despite 2023 comments from UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media, and Sport Lucy Frazer supporting a total ban on athletes from the two countries as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the UK’s BBC public-service broadcaster has now reported that the country’s government has sent a letter to the IOC president in support of the move to allow athletes from the two countries to compete.

In February 2023, Frazer chaired a meeting of 36 countries, including 2024 hosts France, 2028 hosts the US, 2026 Winter Olympics hosts Italy, and 2020 hosts Japan, all of which signed a statement urging the IOC not to allow athletes from the two countries at the games, the 2024 edition of which begins on July 26 and lasts through August 11.

According to the BBC, new, stricter rules regarding the eligibility of Russian and Belarusian athletes are said to have sufficiently persuaded the UK government to now back their attendance, however.

The government has stressed that this is not a u-turn on its policy, as the athletes will technically not be ‘representing’ Russia or Belarus, but instead competing entirely as neutrals.

Per rules announced in March, Russian and Belarusian athletes must compete under a neutral banner at the event without any flags or imagery relating to their homelands and will be referred to as “Individual Neutral Athletes” (AIN), with the IOC’s executive board stating that medals they accrue will not appear on the medal table for the games and that AIN athletes may only compete in individual sports.

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The athletes, who must not have publicly supported the invasion of Ukraine (which is ongoing) nor be military personnel in order to be able to compete, will also be unable to take part in the games’ opening ceremony (as was announced late last month).

February, meanwhile, saw the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) dismiss an appeal by the Russian Olympic Committee against its suspension by the IOC.