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IOC's Bach eyes return to sport for anti-war Russians

GENEVA (AP) – Russian athletes who do not support their country’s war in Ukraine could be reaccepted in international sport, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It is important that athletes who have Russian passports and do not support the war return to the sport,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera. “We have to think about the future.” added.

Most sports followed the advice of the International Olympic Committee in February by banning Russian teams and athletes from events within days of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine.

As Russians start missing events to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an extension of the exile until next year could effectively result in a broader ban from those competitions.

In an interview in Rome, Bach alluded to the IOC’s thinking after being asked in a recent series of conference calls with Olympic officials for their views on Russia’s path back from pariah status.

“I want to be clear, it’s not necessarily about taking Russia back,” he said. “On the one hand, here comes our dilemma: this war was not started by Russian athletes.”

Bach does not suggest how athletes could voice their opposition to the war when dissent or criticism of the Russian military risks several years in prison.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March, subject to a ban imposed by the sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Evgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally in Moscow attended by Vladimir Putin. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed the pro-military ‘Z’ symbol on his uniform at an international event. Did.

According to media reports, Russia’s former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization.

Russians continued to compete in tennis and cycling as individuals during the war, and even when teams were banned, they continued to compete without national symbols such as flags and anthems.

In athletics, the Russians have competed only as neutrals, approved by the sport’s governing body, since 2015 because of the state-sponsored doping scandal that tainted the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Bach and the IOC have taken sufficient action against Russian athletes who have competed in each Olympic Games since 2016 and have undergone additional drug tests or entered as neutrals without their national team name, flag or anthem. faced criticism in the aftermath of the scandal for not being strict with

Bach told the Corriere della Sera that the IOC’s mission is to be politically neutral and “to host the Olympic Games and to maintain sport in general as a link between people and humanity”.

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at the moment regarding a Russian invasion of Ukraine,” he suggested.

“We need to see, research, and monitor how and when we can return to accomplish our mission of welcoming everyone back in whatever form.”

Bach was also in Rome for a sports forum hosted by the Vatican. Pope Francis has hailed sport as “an educational and social good and it must remain so”.

“We should strive to give everyone the opportunity to play sport,” Pope Francis said. You can, and turn it into a virtue.

Vatican officials have previously said they hope to one day field an IOC-recognized team at the Olympics.


Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield, who lives in Rome, contributed to this report.


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