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Bloody white flag: Athletes from aggressor states in the Olympics?

by Anastasiya Glotova  •  Feb 7, 2023

In recent weeks, there have been heated discussions about whether Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed to compete at the 2024 Olympics in Paris under neutral flags.

One of the principles of Olympic sports is to support the anti-war movement. Is this principle respected if a country that has been waging war for almost nine years, and for almost a whole year – a full-scale, brutal, and bloody one – is allowed to participate in the Olympics?

For Ukrainians, this is a very painful question. Ukraine's top officials are criticism of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) position by all means and are calling on the partner countries to boycott the games if the Russians and Belarusians are still allowed to attend them.

So far, it is known that 40 countries may join the boycott. On February 10, a video conference of sports ministers of Western countries is scheduled to decide this question.

And while we wait for the final decisions, let's look at the basic prerequisites, the positions of the parties and why this question is so important for Ukraine.


Russia and the Olympics: scandals and boycotts

The current scandalous situation is not the first in Russian history. In general, Russia, due to its behavior and actions in the international arena, has become the main Olympic pariah in the 20th century:

  • After World War I, the IOC did not recognize Soviet Russia. And so, it did not invite its athletes to the 1920 Antwerp Games.
  • Before the 1924 Olympics, also held in Paris, the IOC did not particularly want to contact the new state – the USSR. But it was afraid to ignore it either. The invitation to the games was sent through intermediaries. The USSR took it as an insult and refused to go to Paris 1924, but the boycott was officially justified as: “In protest against the ex-communication of German athletes from the Games”.
  • The Hungarian uprising of 1956 was brutally suppressed by Soviet troops. The Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland decided to boycott the Melbourne Games in protest against Soviet actions.
  • The 1980 Moscow Olympics were the peak of the Olympic boycott. The games in the USSR were ignored by many democratic countries in protest against the entry of Soviet troops into Afghanistan.

All in all, the 1980 Olympics were boycotted in one form or another by athletes from 65 countries. However, the governments of Great Britain, France, Italy, and Spain allowed their Olympic committees to decide on their own participation in the Olympics. As a result, some athletes from these countries came to the Games individually.


A caricature of the 1980 Olympics

  • Four years later, the USSR decided to take revenge on the Americans by boycotting the Los Angeles Olympics. And pulled other friendly countries along with it. However, teams from Romania, Yugoslavia, and China refused to support the Soviet Union and went to the 1984 Games.
  • At the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, due to doping scandals, Russian weightlifters were not allowed to compete at all.
  • During the Summer Games in Tokyo (2021) and the Winter Games in Beijing (2022), athletes from Russia competed in neutral status because of systematic violations of anti-doping rules. Thus, Russians were forbidden to use the national symbols, anthem, and flag.

As we can see from the history of recent years, Russian representatives have already repeatedly treated the rules of the Olympics unfairly and systematically violated them, which demonstrates their disrespect, cunning and meanness. So, the Russians behave this way not only in international relations and on the battlefield, but also in sports!

Today, Russia has been waging a full-scale war in the center of Europe for a year now, purposefully terrorizing and killing civilians of Ukraine. Belarus is actively assisting it in this. Is such behavior in line with the principles of the Olympic Games?


Stadium in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, destroyed by a Russian missile

Position of the IOC: “Discrimination against individual athletes” will not be tolerated

President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach said that he supported the participation of Russians and Belarusians in the Olympics 2024, despite Ukraine's threats to boycott the Games, Spiegel reports.

In his opinion, the statement of the President of the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of Ukraine, Olympic champion Vadym Gutzeit, on boycotting the Olympics-2024 “does not correspond to the IOC mission”.

“The boycott of Ukraine threatened by Vadym Gutzeit does not correspond to our mission. We know the point of view of Ukraine, which wants to isolate Russia not only as a state, but wants to completely isolate all Russians. Individual athletes should not be discriminated against by exclusion, even if the countries are in a state of conflict,” Bach said.

Accordingly, the Russians and Belarusians want to be allowed to participate in the Olympics in neutral status. This means that athletes will compete under white flags without national symbols or anthems.

Here we should pay attention to the current president of the IOC, namely his possible affiliation with Russia. Thomas Bach, a former German fencer and 1976 Olympic champion, has been head of the IOC since September 2013.

As observers note, it was during his tenure that the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi took place, also marked by a scandal. Because of human rights violations in Russia, they were boycotted by statesmen from various countries, including Barack Obama, Joe Biden, François Hollande, David Cameron, Joachim Gauck, and others.

For Ukrainians, this was an especially tragic period: the final days of the Olympics coincided with the attempted bloody suppression of the Maidan by Viktor Yanukovych regime (see our article Why did the war start? A brief historical overview). Back then the Bach-led IOC banned the women's ski team from the race with mourning ribbons on their sleeves, so the athletes withdraw from the competition. On the other hand, photos of Thomas Bach hugging the host of the Olympics, the president of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, spread around the world.


Vladimir Putin and Thomas Bach

And during the above mentioned doping scandal in 2016, Bach behaved contrary to the obvious facts so that the influential German (!) newspaper Die Zeit published then an article under the eloquent title “Russophile and corrupt – the way Putin likes it”.

Now, Bach is defending the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes. Apparently, he continues to push his “Russophile” agenda?

Ukraine's reaction: “There is no such thing as neutrality when there is such a war”

The scandalous decision of the IOC angered both Ukrainians and representatives of other countries. In response to Bach's position, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky invited him to visit Bakhmut, which was destroyed by Russian troops:

"There is no such thing as neutrality when there is such a war. I don't want to get into what exactly was Mr. Bach's motive for promoting such an initiative. But we will do everything we can for the world to protect the sport from the political and any other influence of the terrorist state, which is simply unavoidable if Russian athletes are to compete. By the way, I invite Mr. Bach to Bakhmut, so that he could see with his own eyes that neutrality does not exist", - Zelensky stressed.

The president also noted:

"Olympic principles and war are fundamentally opposed to each other. Russia must stop the aggression and terror, and only after that we can talk about Russian participation in the context of the Olympic movement".

He underscored his words with pictures of Olympic athletes filmed in the ruins created by Russia in Ukraine. We present them here as illustrations.


Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba stated that in case of admission of Russians to the Olympics-2024, representatives of the Russian army will be able to compete at the Games in Paris. He explained this by the fact that at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where Russians also competed in neutral status, 45 medals were won by members of the Central Sports Club of the Russian Army (CSKA).


In addition, according to Kuleba, during a year of full-scale war the occupiers killed 231 Ukrainian athletes and coaches, 15 were wounded, 28 were detained, and four are missing. Therefore, if representatives of the aggressor state participate in the Olympics, Ukrainian athletes will boycott it.

Probably, the advisor of the head of the Office of the President Mykhailo Podolyak made the sharpest statement:

"The IOC is a promoter of war, murder and destruction... The IOC enjoys watching the Russian Federation destroy Ukraine and then offers Russia a platform to advertise genocide and encourage further murder. Obviously, the Russian money with which the Olympic hypocrisy is bought does not smell of Ukrainian blood. Right, Mr. Bach?" - the official wrote on Twitter.
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World reaction: will they boycott together with Ukraine?

Representatives of many countries sharply criticized the decision of the IOC, and Poland is working on the creation of an "international coalition" against the participation of Russians and Belarusians.

  • Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas criticized the IOC decision to allow citizens of Russia and Belarus to participate in the 2024 Olympics under a neutral flag.
"Disappointed by the IOC decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to attend 2024 Paris games. Politically and morally wrong – time to strengthen isolation, not give in to Russia. Sport is a tool in Russia’s propaganda machine, ignoring that means siding with aggression," Kallas wrote on Twitter.
  • Member of the Seimas of Lithuania Raimundas Lopata called on the Lithuanian Olympic Committee to do everything possible to prevent Russian and Belarusian athletes to the Olympics-2024, even under a neutral flag, LRT reports.
"Russia is a terrorist country. Therefore, to make concessions to athletes who trained and continue their professional careers in this country is a humiliating bow to terrorism and disregard for the victims of the war in Ukraine," he commented.
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  • Norway also does not support the return of Russia and Belarus. The Olympic Committee and the Confederation of Sports issued a statement assuring that their position remains unchanged from February 2022: the ban of athletes from these countries must remain in force.
  • Minister of Culture and Sports of Great Britain Michelle Donelan criticized the idea of the IOC, saying that the Committee is far from the realities of the war experienced by the Ukrainian people. And German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, for her part, called such moves by the IOC a false trail.
  • Finally, the Polish Olympic Committee, represented by President Andrzej Kraśnicki, opposed the return of Russians and Belarusians to international sport.
"Until the end of the barbaric war in Ukraine, no Russian and Belarusian athletes should take part in any international competitions, including the Olympic Games. The Polish Olympic Committee has been, is and will remain in solidarity with Ukraine, the Ukrainian nation and athletes," the statement on the website of the Polish Olympic Committee says.

Polish Minister of Sport and Tourism Kamil Bortniczuk said that Poland and Great Britain are working on creation of "an international coalition" that will unite against the participation of Russia and Belarus in the next Olympics. If the aggressor countries are allowed to the Games, Poland along with other countries is ready to issue an ultimatum.

"Our goal is not to allow Russians and Belarusians to participate in the Olympics, but not Ukrainians, Latvians or Poles. If we have to boycott the Olympics, it will be a boycott as part of a broad coalition led by Britain and the United States. It makes no sense to boycott the competition without these countries," Bortniczuk emphasized.

Whether the most influential countries will support Poland in this matter, we will know already on February 10.


It's not just about Ukraine, it's about much more!

In any case, it is already clear that the IOC, like many other international institutions (UN, OSCE, Amnesty International etc.), needs a reset. The events in Ukraine in the last year have revealed the flaws in the functioning of these organizations, which basically are supposed to ensure peace in the world.

And it is not only and not so much about supporting Ukraine. It is about preserving the global order, the destruction of which is one of Vladimir Putin's goals.

Allowing the Russians and Belarusians to participate in the Olympics after all they have done and continue to do in Ukraine will be an eloquent demonstration of their impunity. And after all, bringing the fundamental principles of peaceful coexistence of states in the modern world to the point of absurdity is one of the tools of modern Hitler.

Will we allow him to implement this insidious plan? Ukraine is doing everything possible to resist it: both on the battlefield and in the international arena. The main thing is that all other civilized countries support us in this fight. And in the context of sport and the Olympic Games, as well.

Anastasiya Glotova

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