Paris Olympics: Sense of Doubt Exists Over Allowing Russian Athletes to Participate in Games

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has decided to conditionally allow Russian athletes to participate in the Paris Olympics to be held in 2024. A sense of doubt exists about the prospect that athletes from a country that continues to commit aggression will take part in a “festival of peace.”

Under the IOC’s decision, athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus will participate in the 2024 Games as individual “neutral” athletes who are not representing their countries. It is said that athletes who agree with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine or have ties to the military or security services will be excluded.

Since the era of the Soviet Union, Russia has a history of state-led efforts to nurture promising athletes. The successful achievements of athletes on the international stage, such as the Olympics, have been used politically for enhancing national prestige and propaganda. This stance is no different under the current government led by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Many elite athletes are supported by Russian oligarchs who are loyal to the Putin administration and state-run enterprises. It is impossible to regard such athletes as “neutral” even if they meet the condition of not actively supporting the nation’s aggression.

The final decision regarding whether athletes from Russia and Belarus will be allowed to compete in the Games will be determined by the international organizations of each sport.

In response to Russia’s aggression, World Athletics has been imposing punishments against athletes from both countries, excluding them from major competitions. The athletics association has said it will continue to impose the punishments at the Paris Games. Meanwhile, some international sports federations, such as that of judo, will allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in their respective sports in the next Olympics.

The IOC’s decision is believed to be based on the fact that the Olympic Charter stipulates opposition to discrimination based on such factors as national origin. It is likely the IOC felt that excluding Russian athletes would violate the spirit of the charter.

However, does imposing severe punishments on Russia, which has trampled on the very foundation of the U.N. Charter, namely, respect for sovereign equality and territorial integrity, really constitute “discrimination?” It must not be forgotten that the spirit of the Olympic Charter can stand only when there is peace.

Ukraine is strongly opposed to the IOC’s decision. If athletes from Russia and Belarus participate in the Paris Games, there is a risk that Ukrainian athletes will refuse to compete against Russian or Belarusian athletes and that emotional clashes may occur.

Israel’s ground operation in the Palestinian territory of Gaza has also cast a shadow over the Olympics. Match boycotts and other troubles could occur between Israeli athletes and those from Arab countries and the Islamic world.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution in November calling for member states to observe an Olympic truce in all conflicts during the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games. Russia should listen to the calls of the international community for the Olympics to be held in the absence of war.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 31, 2023)