UK writes letter to IOC to allow Russian athletes at Paris Olympics

credit: Shutterstock
credit: Shutterstock

In a potentially stunning U-turn, the UK government has written a letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow Russian athletes to compete at this year’s Paris Olympic Games

UK Sports Minister, Stuart Andrew, stated in the letter to IOC President, Thomas Bach, that the country will support Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in this summer’s Games after previously pushing for their suspension following the start of Russo-Ukraine war in February 2022. 

The UK’s position on Russia has softened according to a Monday Department for Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) meeting after it deemed World Athletics and IOC’s action of Russian and Belarusian swimmers and divers to be neutral athletes to be too strict. 

Under the terms, only one swimmer and diver from each country are allowed to compete as a neutral for any international event and must not in any way support the ongoing war in Ukraine. 

However, it has been reported by the PA news agency that government officials are adamment that the UK’s stance regarding Russian and Belarusian athletes remains the same.

Despite this, the UK has eased its opposition towards Russian and Belarusian athletes competing at UK-based events, such as the All England Club inviting tennis players from both countries to compete at last year’s Wimbledon. However, Russians and Belarusians had to compete as neutrals. 

In contrast, last year, the UK was one of several countries pushing for the IOC to uphold its ban on athletes from Russia and Belarus. 

Lucy Frazer, Secretary of State to the DCMS, was present at a summit last year to represent the UK, and even wrote to Olympic sponsors to support the ban as she deemed the ongoing war in Ukraine as enough grounds for athletes from Russia and Belarus to be barred from the Paris Olympics. 

In a statement by CMS in February 2023, it stated: “We welcomed the IOC’s reaffirmation and reinforcement of their existing sanctions in place, and their statement committing to solidarity and support for Ukrainian athletes and the Ukrainian Olympic Committee.

“While recognising the autonomy of sports bodies, given the invasion of Ukraine and its devastation is ongoing, we agreed that the IOC’s proposal on exploring a pathway back to competition for individual Russian and Belarusian athletes raises many questions and concerns.”

Currently, Russian and Belarusian athletes remained banned from this summer’s Games, with certain athletes having to compete as neutral athletes. 

Whilst the UK’s potential change of stance due to its size and status may become a determining factor, a IOC and World Athletics change of decision will need the approval of several more countries. 

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