Rowing-'Limited number' of Russians to compete at world championships

FILE PHOTO: Competitors take part in the 2022 World Rowing Beach Sprint Finals, off the coast of Saundersfoot, Britain, October 16, 2022. REUTERS/Rebecca Naden/File Photo

(Reuters) - World Rowing said it will allow a "limited number" of Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate as neutrals at the world championships in September, which is a qualifying event for next year's Paris Olympics.

The IOC issued recommendations in March for athletes from the two countries to return to international competition since their ban last year in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a "special military operation".

Belarus has been used a staging point for the invasion.

Rowing's governing body said on Wednesday Russian and Belarusian athletes would only be allowed to return if background checks proved they are not associated with the war or military in any form.

They will compete without flags, anthems and national emblems and be subjected to "enhanced" anti-doping procedures, it said.

At the Sept. 3-10 world championships in Belgrade, the athletes will be allowed to compete in the single sculls and coxless pairs, which offer Olympic qualifying spots, and in the lightweight single sculls.

They will also be allowed in para-rowing single sculls and pairs.

World Rowing President Jean-Christophe Rolland said the decision "aligns with our shared principles of inclusion and placing athletes at the centre of our decisions".

"It also avoids punishing rowers for the action of their governments," Roland added. "Facing a highly complex situation, I believe we have found a solution that allows rowing to play its role in building bridges between people and nations."

Ukraine has barred its national sports teams from competing in events that include athletes from Russia and Belarus. Cycling, taekwondo, fencing and judo are among the other Olympic sports which have readmitted them as neutrals.

The IOC is to make a separate decision on Russian and Belarusian athletes' participation at the Paris Olympics. Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Games should they be allowed to compete there.

(Reporting by Hritika Sharma in Hyderabad; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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