International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach laid out his case for the international sports movement to continue its stance against Russian and Belarussian influence in sports in the wake of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, saying at the Association of National Olympic Committees General Assembly to “keep following the sanctions and protective measures,” that have been in place since the spring.
“Do not do less, because doing less means you divide the Olympic movement,” Bach told delegates at ANOC of the IOC’s current stance. “Do not do more, because doing more means you divide the Olympic movement,” while also in his speech admitting the current situation is an “unsolvable dilemma.”
Bach said in September that Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, a potential opening to the IOC’s current ban of Russian athletes and teams from international competition within days of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The future includes qualifying events for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games in Paris. With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games. U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee Chair Susanne Lyons earlier in September said the IOC is discussing “whether there is a pathway” for the return of Russian and Belarussian athletes to competition.
Some international federations are already defying the IOC’s stance. The International Boxing Association, whose Russian president recently overcame a challenge to his position, announced all Russian and Belarusian athletes will be allowed to compete and have their respective flags shown and anthems played at competition.
In announcing its decision, the IBA said it “strongly believes that politics shouldn’t have any influence on sports. Hence, all athletes should be given equal conditions,” a not-so-subtle challenge to the IOC’s traditionally apolitical stances and is the latest in a series of conflicts between the IOC and the federation, which has seen the sport’s Olympic standing in serious doubt.
Bach said Russia’s recent escalation “deepened its violation of the Olympic Charter” and warned it showed that “the sanctions against the Russian and Belarusian states and governments must and will remain firmly in place.” Bach also tried to subtly respond to the IBA in explaining why the IOC took the stance it did in the spring.
“We did so with a very heavy heart because they concern athletes and sports officials who did not start this war, who are not responsible for this war,” Bach said. “Athletes should never be the victims of policies of their own government. This situation puts us in an unsolvable dilemma. On the one hand, we cannot fully live up to our Olympic mission, which is to protect the athletes and to unite the entire world in peaceful competition. We all had always agreed and insisted on this principle in the past when athletes from one or the other country refused to compete against athletes from another country for political reasons. We have insisted on this principle because we all agreed that such a unifying peaceful competition is at the core of our mission. Now, unfortunately, in this unique situation, the only way to protect this mission was to recommend the non-participation of athletes just because of their passport.”
Bach’s speech at ANOC comes as South Korea is reportedly considering a potential bid for the 2036 Games with Seoul and Busan being considered as candidate cities. Seoul hosted the 1988 Games and Busan has hosted the 2002 Asian Games. South Korea has hosted the Winter Games in 2018 in Pyeongchang; a potential joint bid between South and North Korea for the 2032 Games was unsuccessful as the IOC awarded the event to Brisbane, Australia.
Bach also spoke about sustainability for the future of the Olympic movement, urging NOCs to undergo a full review of events and consider whether the current economic and environmental situations allow all events in the future to continue.
“Review now all your planned activities and decide whether every event, every competition, every meeting is really necessary given the precarious situation the world economy is and will be facing,” said Bach. “Such a review of our actions is prudent not only from a financial perspective. In our interconnected world, we are also facing interconnected challenges. The climate crisis is one such urgent global challenge. … I can only urge all of you to do the same: review all your sport events, your competitions, meetings and all your activities not only from a financial perspective but also with the aim to reduce your, to reduce our collective carbon footprint.”