Russia-Organized Possible Rival To Olympic Games Leads To IOC’s Notice

Russia is excluded from all team sports at the Olympics. (File)

Facing a Russia-organized potential rival to the Olympics, the IOC urged sports and political leaders on Tuesday not to take part in the Friendship Games due to launch weeks after the Summer Games in Paris.

The International Olympic Committee denounced diplomatic moves to promote the inaugural event in September as “a cynical attempt by the Russian Federation” to bring politics into sports.

“The IOC strongly urges all stakeholders of the Olympic movement and all governments to reject any participation in, and support of, any initiative that intends to fully politicize international sport,” it said in a statement published during a meeting of its executive board chaired by IOC president Thomas Bach.

Russian President Vladimir Putin decreed last year to start organizing summer and winter events under the banner of the Friendship Games, paying tens of millions of dollars in prize money.

The games aim to counter the country’s increasing isolation in international sports — and growing tensions with the IOC and Bach — since the military invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

At the United Nations in New York four months ago, Russian diplomat Maria Zabolotskaya used a debate on an Olympic truce for Paris to invite the world to the Friendship Games, citing her country’s support for “honest and fair competitions.”

The first games are scheduled in Moscow and Yekaterinburg in September, with a prize fund reported by Russia media totaling 4.6 billion rubles ($50 million).

The Friendship Games aim to launch within weeks of the Aug. 11 closing ceremony at the Paris Olympics, where the IOC does not pay prize money for medalists.

Russia is excluded from all team sports at the Olympics and individual athletes must pass two layers of vetting — by their sport’s governing body and the IOC — to get neutral status to compete without their national symbols of flag, anthem and uniforms in red, white and blue.

Sports officials have said in private conversations the contingent of Russian athletes competing as neutrals in Paris could range from about 25 to 50.

One reported goal of the Friendship Games has been to create international competitions for Russian athletes and teams whose careers have stalled during the war in Ukraine.

It is unclear which countries have committed to sending teams to Russia in September and if sports officials are involved in the process.

The IOC warned on Tuesday of athletes outside “being forced by their governments into participating … thereby being exploited as part of a political propaganda campaign.”

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