Russians, Belarusians to participate at Paris Olympics as neutrals

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Russians and Belarusians who qualify in their sport for the Paris 2024 Olympics can take part as neutrals without flags, emblems or anthems at the event next year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Friday.

Athletes from these two countries had initially been banned from competing internationally following Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year, for which Belarus has been used as a staging ground.

In March, however, the IOC issued a first set of recommendations for international sports federations to allow Russian and Belarusian competitors to return and they have since done so in most events.

"The Executive Board (EB) of the IOC has decided that Individual Neutral Athletes (AINs) who have qualified through the existing qualification systems of the International Federations (IFs) on the field of play will be declared eligible to compete at the Olympic Games Paris 2024," the Olympic body said in a statement.

"Individual Neutral Athletes are athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport."

The neutral athletes will only compete in individual sports and no teams from the two countries will be allowed to participate in Paris.

The IOC, which in October suspended the Russian Olympic Committee for recognising regional organisations from four territories annexed from Ukraine, also said athletes who actively support the war in Ukraine would not be eligible.

It also said no Russian or Belarusian government or state official would be invited to or accredited for Paris 2024.

But athletes, it added, should not be punished for the actions of their governments.

Ukraine has opposed the presence of Russian competitors, even as neutrals, at the Paris Olympics.

Out of 4,600 athletes globally who have qualified for the Paris Games so far, eight are Russians and three hold Belarusian passports. More than 60 Ukrainians had qualified.

Athletics, the Games' biggest sport, is unlikely to open the door for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to competition, however, after banning them following the invasion and sticking to the suspension on Friday.

In response to the IOC decision on Friday, World Athletics (WA) said: "Our position on Russian participation remains the same and has been very clear from the outset: All athletes, support personnel and officials from Russia and Belarus are excluded from all World Athletics Series events, and from hosting any International or European athletics events."

"We will continue to monitor the situation, but unless there is a major change in circumstances between now and the Olympic Games, this exclusion will apply to Paris 2024."

"It is the IOC’s remit to decide which countries are invited to participate at the Olympic Games, but it is the responsibility of the IFs (international federations) to decide which athletes within their sport are eligible to compete."

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