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IOC suspends Russian Olympic Committee for incorporating Ukrainian sports regions

A security guard stands at the entrance of a venue ahead of the 141st International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in Mumbai, India.
A security guard stands at the entrance of a venue ahead of the 141st International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in Mumbai, India. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews with AP
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Russia has been proscribed by multiple international sports bodies over the last decade for doping violations and geopolitical aggression.

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After nearly 20 months of waging war in Ukraine, Russia has been suspended by the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, for breaching the Olympic Charter by incorporating sports councils in four regions in eastern Ukraine.

The IOC's executive board imposed the suspension on Thursday, a week after after Russian Olympic officials provoked the dispute by "accepting" the councils in the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia as its members.

The "unilateral decision," the IOC said in a statement from Mumbai, India, "constitutes a breach of the Olympic Charter because it violates the territorial integrity of the NOC of Ukraine, as recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in accordance with the Olympic Charter."

The four regions concerned have all been illegally annexed by Russia with very little international recognition. Donetsk and Luhansk were first taken over after the Russian incursion in 2014, while Kherson and Zaporizhzhia have fallen under partial Russian control since the invasion that began last year.

The road to 2024

The suspension does not immediately affect any Russians who are returning to compete in international sporting events as neutral athletes. However, it did suggest rising frustration from the IOC and its president, Thomas Bach, who can ultimately decide to impose a blanket ban on all Russian athletes from next year's Paris Olympics.

The IOC said it "reserves the right to decide about the participation of individual neutral athletes with a Russian passport in the Olympic Games Paris 2024 and the Olympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026 at the appropriate time."

The Russian Olympic Committee criticised the IOC for "another counterproductive decision with obvious political motivations."

However, the IOC under Bach has often been seen as too sympathetic to Russia during a decade-long doping scandal. It has never excluded all the country's athletes and teams from any Olympics despite proven allegations of state-backed cheating and tampering with evidence.

The latest decision by the IOC board comes seven months after it publicly supported Russian athletes by advising governing bodies of Olympic sports to find ways of including them in qualifying events for the Paris Games.

That IOC policy to ease a blanket ban was in defiance of calls from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and many Ukrainian athletes to maintain the exclusion of athletes from Russia and Belarus.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, centre, speaks on the first day of the committee's 2023 executive board meeting.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, centre, speaks on the first day of the committee's 2023 executive board meeting.Rafiq Maqbool/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Vetting processes by different sports bodies will continue despite the IOC suspension imposed Thursday, which does not affect Belarus.

"The suspension of the national Olympic committee doesn't affect in any way the participation of independent athletes," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said at a news conference after the board meeting.

Adams said the Russian Olympic Committee had been informed of its suspension before the IOC announced it publicly.

Russia remains excluded from international events in team sports, despite a short-lived and failed attempt this month by European soccer body UEFA to put Russian under-17 teams into qualifying groups for their European Championship.

The new ban removes the right of the ROC to get funding from the Switzerland-based IOC, which is worth millions of dollars in each four-year Olympic funding cycle. Russian officials reportedly have been weighing legal action to access the money that was not being paid during the war.

The Russian Olympic Committee can challenge the IOC decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

"ROC, as a participant in the international sports movement, reserves the right to protect its own interests, as well as the interests of athletes and organisations of a sovereign country, which we represent in good faith," the Russian Olympic body said.

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