Author: Sanan NADIROGHLU
The global sport family is preparing for the year 2024, trying to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic. France is going to host the planet's largest competition, with the 33rd Summer Olympic Games slated for 2024 in Paris. Meanwhile, the hype around the world's most prestigious sporting event continues.
A statement that caused a scandal
Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), made a statement that caused a scandal around the Paris 2024. He admitted the possibility for Russian and Belarusian athletes to join the games under a neutral flag.
"Banning athletes because of their passports is inconsistent with the values and mission of the Olympic Charter. Perhaps Russian and Belarusian athletes could compete under a neutral flag at the 2024 Olympic Games. We know the Ukrainian point of view, which not only wants to isolate Russia as a state, but also wants to isolate all Russians completely. Individual athletes should not be discriminated," Der Spiegel quoted Bach.
As expected, the first negative reaction to these statements came from Ukraine. President Vladimir Zelensky said that "athletes from Russia should not join the Paris Olympic Games". Kiev believes the IOC is supporting the war thanks to Russia's extensive use of athletes in its propaganda. "There is no such thing as neutrality when there is such a war. And we know how often tyrannies try to use sport in their ideological interests. Obviously, any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood," Zelensky said.
Such harsh reactions have prompted a campaign to boycott the Paris Olympics by countries around the world, particularly in Europe.
Poland position on the likelihood of a boycott has been known, as Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski told RMF FM that the Polish athletes would not compete together with Russian and Belarusian athletes. "If athletes from Belarus and Russia are allowed to compete in the 2024 Olympics, we must boycott the games. We must put pressure on the IOC. Putin and Lukashenko are using sport to gain support in the international arena. Restrictions imposed on Russian and Belarusian athletes at global sport events help combat the Russian propaganda. If someone wants these athletes back, this is a very bad decision," Jablonski said.
Polish Minister of Sport and Tourism Kamil Bortnichuk told PAP that some 40 countries could boycott the Paris Olympics if athletes from Russia and Belarus were allowed to compete.
The reaction of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Czech Republic was similar. They said that it was unacceptable for athletes from the aggressor country and its collaborator to return to international competitions even under a neutral flag. The UK and Scandinavian countries also supported the Ukrainian position.
In particular, London has openly opposed the participation of Russian athletes in the Olympic Games. British Sky News quoted the prime minister's spokesman, who said that the UK position had already been communicated to the IOC. It calls for Russia to be treated as a rogue state as long as it continues the military aggression against Ukraine. "We and many countries have an unambiguous position on this issue. We want to make sure that we continue speaking in solidarity and make that quite clear," spokesman said.
On the contrary, the US administration has advocated a ban on the use of the national flags and anthems of Russia and Belarus during international sport events, but believes that their athletes can be admitted to the games under a neutral status. "In cases where sports organisations and event organisers such as the IOC decide to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate in sport events, it must be absolutely clear that they are not acting as representatives of the Russian or Belarusian state. The use of official state flags, coats of arms and anthems of Russia and Belarus should also be prohibited," White House spokeswoman Carine Jean-Pierre said.
Norway and Germany also opposed Thomas Bach's idea. They said that if Russian and Belarusian athletes were allowed to join the Olympic Games, their countries would not participate in the largest global tournament.
An ambiguous position
After a surge of negative feedback from European countries, the International Olympic Committee tried to stop the scandal by posting a statement on their official website. It said that the IOC had yet to make the decision on the participation of Russian and Belarusian teams in the Olympic Games. Recommendations to return the representatives of those countries apply only to competitions held in Asia, not the Olympic Games.
Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic movement, used to say that the Olympic Games were a messenger of peace. The main idea was to unite the countries of the world under the umbrella of sport competitions. We can expect a great scandal, if European countries refuse to take part in the upcoming Olympic Games. It will be like a nuclear explosion in the sport world. After all, athletes have been preparing for the games for four years, going through various challenges to qualify for the largest tournament. Because of the past pandemic, Tokyo had to apply heavy bans and restrictions during the last Olympic Games. The Paris Olympics, on the other hand, is associated with the return of the global sport to normal living conditions. If European countries refuse to compete, their athletes will be able to take part in the largest global sport event on an individual basis. This can lead to a new scandal between the athletes and countries involved.
Let’s recall that similar scandals have been recorded at some of the previous Olympic Games. Thus, Germany and the USSR were not allowed to compete in Antwerp in 1920 and Paris in 1924. In 1936, the US and European countries demanded that the idea of holding the Olympic Games in Germany be abandoned. However, the IOC, showing great confidence in Germany, succeeded in staging the competition. The Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Egypt, Iraq, Cambodia, Lebanon and China all refused to join the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. The biggest scandal took place at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Due to the Cold War, 64 countries abandoned the tournament. At the closing ceremony of the Moscow Games, the organisers did not raise the flag of the USA, the next host of the Olympic Games. In 1984, at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, the USSR took revenge for the four-year-old incident and did not join the games.