Olympics-Russia, Belarus athletes' participation at Paris Games still unclear

FILE PHOTO: International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach attends the opening of the Executive Board meeting at the Olympic House in Lausanne, Switzerland, December 5, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/Pool

DOHA (Reuters) - The participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes at the 2024 Paris summer Olympics is still unclear and no date has been set for a final decision on the matter, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said on Wednesday.

About 100,000 athletes around the world will be trying to qualify in the coming year and a half for the Games, with about 10,000 eventually expected to attend.

It is still unclear, however, if and how athletes from Russia and Belarus will be able to compete both in the qualification process and the Games themselves.

"This requires further consultations - they are ongoing and there is no fixed date," Bach told an online news conference at the end of an IOC Executive Board meeting when asked whether there was a date for such a decision.

He said that while IOC sanctions against the two countries, including the ban on any of their anthems, flags or national symbols, remain in place, the "protective measures" of not letting their athletes compete in international competitions to protect the events' integrity were another matter.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, many sports bodies have moved events and suspended Russian teams or athletes while sponsors ended contracts in protest against the war.

The IOC had also recommended that events in Russia be cancelled or relocated and that Russian and Belarusian athletes not take part or compete under a neutral flag.

But it has repeatedly said the ban of those athletes was not part of the sanctions but was a protective measure.

"We had to act against our own values and mission to unify the world under peaceful competition," Bach said. "What we never did and did not want to do was prohibit athletes from competing in competitions only due to their passports."

"We need to explore ways to overcome this dilemma with regard to athletes' participation and come back to sporting merits and not political interference."

"We are about to explore ways how we can come back to this unifying mission and how we can avoid sport being fully politicised, taken over by political interests," Bach said.

The IOC urged international federations to ban athletes from competitions but it has not suspended or sanctioned the national Olympic committees of Russia and Belarus.

While events that count towards qualification in some sports for the Paris Olympics have already been held, most sports will stage their continental or global qualification events in the coming 18 months.

A total of 32 sports are on the programme for the Olympics in 2024.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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