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Russian athletes ‘not welcome’ at Olympics – Paris mayor

The competitors are allowed to participate as neutrals in individual sports, but are barred from team events

The mayor of Paris has suggested that Russian and Belarusian contestants stay away from this summer’s Olympic Games in the French capital, despite being officially allowed to compete as neturals.

“I want to tell the Russian and Belarusian athletes that they are not welcome in Paris,” Anne Hidalgo told Ukrainian athletes at a training center in Kiev on Thursday, while on a visit to Ukraine.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) initially pushed for a complete ban on competitors from Russia and Belarus after the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict in February 2022. However, last December the IOC ruled that a limited number of people from the two countries could participate as AINs (individual neutral athletes).

Earlier this month, the mayor of Paris said she would prefer for Russian and Belarusian contestants not to come at all. “We cannot act as if [the Russian military operation in Ukraine] did not exist,” she told Reuters.

When asked about Israel’s Olympic participation – in the context of the Gaza war, raging since the Hamas attack on October 7 – Hidalgo insisted there was no comparison to be made.

Sanctioning Israeli athletes is “out of the question because Israel is a democracy,” she stated.

Russia has slammed the IOC’s difference in approach to Israeli and Russian contestants. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused the Switzerland-based body of “political activism” and called its approach self-discrediting.

The maximum numbers of Russian and Belarusian athletes that can qualify for the upcoming games are 55 and 28, respectively. The IOC has noted that the teams are unlikely to actually meet the quota, with some 36 Russian and 22 Belarusian athletes expected to make it to the games, according to IOC director James Macleod. 

Participants from the two nations can only compete in individual events, and not team sports, under a neutral flag, and are barred from the Olympic opening ceremony.

Commenting on the restrictions faced by Russian and Belarusian competitors, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the move “destroys Olympic ideals and discriminates against the interests of Olympians.” Such restrictions run “absolutely contrary to the entire ideology of the Olympic movement,” he insisted.

March 31, 2024 at 12:59PM

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