Swimming-World Aquatics stands by its strict Russia policy for Olympics

FILE PHOTO: Swimming – 17th FINA World Aquatics Championships – Women's 100m Breaststroke Final – Budapest, Hungary – July 25, 2017 – Yuliya Efimova of Russia competes. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh/File photo

DOHA (Reuters) - World Aquatics (WA) are standing by their strict criteria for Russian and Belarusian swimmers to return to international competition - even if it means some of the world's best from the two countries boycott the Paris Olympics.

Swimming's global governing body approved the return of Russian and Belarusian participants last September after banning them following Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

They can only compete as neutrals, they are banned from relay events and they must accept strict criteria including no "explicit or implicit" statements of support for the war in Ukraine, which Russia calls a "special military operation".

They are also subject to stringent anti-doping requirements and a ban on talking to media during competition.

Russia's swimming federation condemned the protocols as unacceptable and discriminatory, and no Russian swimmer entered the World Championships currently being held in Doha.

"As I sit here right now, I'm standing by the policy 100%" WA Executive Director Brent Nowicki told Reuters.

"I don't think it's too restrictive. I think it's a policy that reflects the voice of our community, and whether or not they want to do it is up to them."

A number of top Russian swimmers would have had strong medal claims if they competed at Doha, including men's 50 metres backstroke world record holder Kliment Kolesnikov and Evgeniia Chikunova, the women's 200m breaststroke world record holder.

Four Belarusian swimmers have competed as neutrals in Doha, but the absence of Russia's leading athletes has further weakened a competition which was already shunned by a number of the world's top swimmers due to its unusual February schedule and proximity to the Olympics in Paris.

The International Olympic Committee in December endorsed Russian and Belarusian athletes competing as neutrals at Paris.

Most sports have allowed them back into international competition although some, like athletics, retain bans.

The Russian swimming federation declined to comment on whether it would send swimmers to the Olympics or support athletes competing in Paris under the WA protocols.

Nowicki said he could not rule out a review of the protocols and possible changes if there was support from the WA's athletes committee, board and coaches.

"You always want the best swimmers in the pool, right?" he said.

"Everybody wants to have the best competition possible, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices.

"In the interest of the sporting competitive balance that we're trying to strike and fairness, sometimes it means the best swimmers out there .... won't be in the water."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Doha; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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