The head of the Olympics defends the position of Russia and Belarus

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, defended his organization’s efforts to create a path for Russian and Belarusian athletes back to competition in a speech in his native Germany.

Bach reiterated the IOC’s position that it would be discriminatory to exclude Russians and Belarusians on the basis of citizenship alone, and said the Olympics could help foster dialogue at a tense time.

German broadcaster WDR reported that approximately 200 pro-Ukrainian protesters gathered outside the venue calling for Russia’s complete exclusion from the Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee recommended Russia and Belarus be excluded on safety grounds shortly after last year’s invasion, but is now arguing for athletes from the two countries to be allowed to compete as neutrals without national symbols ahead of a packed schedule of qualifying events for the 2024 Paris Games.

Bach said he was against political influence over the sport and any suggestion that Russians should be treated as if they had “collective guilt”.

He said the Olympic Games must remain neutral in order to be a unifying force.

The IOC has previously said it wants to disqualify athletes seen as “actively supporting the war”, with the final decision falling to the international federations running individual sports, but has provided few details on how this will work.

Bach refined that approach on Wednesday, noting that the International Olympic Committee might recommend banning athletes standing with the ‘Z’ symbol, a sign used on Russian military vehicles that has become a symbol of support for the war.

“Our principles state clearly and clearly that any active support for war, and that includes wearing that ‘Z’, which includes notations and things other than that (is prohibited),” Bach said.

“Whoever favors war in this way cannot or in connection with the international federations, since we are issuing this only as a recommendation, should not participate in these contests.”

Asked what to do with the many Russian athletes who are part of the military or have ties to military organisations, Bach indicated that the IOC may decide its approach at a board meeting next week.

“Wait until the middle of next week. I’m sure we’ll come up with appropriate guidelines after that,” he said.

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