IOC will be on wrong ‘side of history’ if Russian athletes compete at Paris 2024

The International Olympic Committee has been warned it will not be “on the right side of history” if it allows Russian athletes the chance to compete at the Paris Games in 2024.

IOC president Thomas Bach said on Wednesday his organisation was consulting with global sports federations to “overcome the dilemma” surrounding the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in major events, opening up the possibility of athletes from those countries competing in the French capital despite the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Rob Koehler, the director general of the Global Athlete group, has criticised the IOC’s stance on Russia and warned that even if national symbols, colours and flags remain banned, Russia will still gain political advantage from the involvement of its athletes.

He said in a statement issued to the PA news agency: “Russia has used its athletes, both before and during the war, in state propaganda and has elevated athletes to high-ranking positions in the armed forces.

“Russia has proven time and time again that athletes are an integral part of its foreign policy.

“If Russian athletes are allowed to return to international competition, the Russian state will again use the athletes to bolster the war effort and distract from the atrocities in Ukraine.

“If the IOC refuse to ban Russia, they are clearly emboldening Russia violation of international law and their own Charters. Their lack of action will send a message to every athlete and the world that they have chosen Russia’s interests over athlete interests.

“The IOC’s legacy will be defined by their actions and thus far the IOC legacy is not on the right side of history. To date, Russia has never been banned, they have simply been rebranded.”

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The IOC’s executive board recommended in February, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine abetted by Belarus, that athletes from those two countries be barred from competing in international events, but Bach has always insisted the recommendation was designed to be a “protective” measure for those athletes rather than a sanction.

In his press conference on Wednesday he went on to criticise what he saw as political interference on this issue, at one point singling out the UK government’s role in banning Russian players from Wimbledon.

When asked about the risk of Russia being able to derive political capital from the involvement of its athletes if they returned, Bach said any political demonstrations by Russian athletes would be sanctioned, pointing to punishments already handed out to athletes who have displayed the pro-war ‘Z’ symbol at events since the invasion began.