Paris Olympics 2024 could feature only 40 Russian athletes, says IOC

Senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) Vice-President John Coates is unsure how many Russian athletes will compete as neutral athletes at the Paris Games, but thinks reports that it might be as low as 40 could be close to the mark.

Under sanctions put in place because of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, for which Belarus acted as a staging post, the IOC is allowing only some Russian and Belarussian athletes to compete in Paris under tight restrictions.

The inclusion of the neutral athletes remains a contentious issue, with Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba describing December’s decision to allow them as ‘shameful’, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo saying last week she hoped they would not come.

“The issue is how many of them are going to be there too, because they’re not going to be in any team sports because they can’t compete as Russia,” Coates said in Sunday’s edition of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

“And then anyone who is prepared out of the Russian military clubs, they’re not going. I don’t know, but obviously some athletes might choose not to go if they’re not competing for Russia. I mightn’t be right, but I think that I’ve read something that it might be as little as 40.”

Neutral athletes will compete only in individual sports without flags, emblems or national anthems, and athletes who actively support the war in Ukraine, or are contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military, are not eligible.

Moscow, which describes the invasion as a “special military operation”, called the restrictions “illegitimate, unfair and unacceptable”, but Russia’s Olympic chief, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, has confirmed its athletes would not boycott the Games.

Because of doping sanctions that prevented them from competing under the Russian flag, 335 athletes took part in the 2021 Tokyo Summer Games as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) team, winning 71 medals. Belarus sent 101 athletes who won seven medals.

The ROC has since been suspended by the IOC for recognising regional Olympic Councils in territories annexed from Ukraine, a decision upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) last month.

Of 4,600 athletes who had qualified for the Games at the time of the December decision on neutral athletes, eight were Russians and three held Belarusian passports. More than 60 Ukrainians had qualified.

Some sports, such as equestrian, have announced they will not allow any athletes from the two countries to compete, while World Athletics has had a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes since early 2022.

Others, such as World Swimming and the International Tennis Federation (ITF), will allow Russians and Belarussians to compete under the IOC restrictions.

Russia’s world number four tennis player, Daniil Medvedev, said earlier this month he was looking forward to competing and would abide by the rules.

The Paris Olympics run from July 26 to Aug 11. 

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