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Opinion – Marina Izidro: Russians and Belarusians have an open path for the Paris-24 Games


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“I think everyone knows I’m from Belarus,” said Aryna Sabalenka when asked by a reporter about winning the Australian Open as a “neutral” athlete.

The tennis player’s answer is obvious, and this is how Russians and Belarusians must get a chance to compete in the Paris Olympics in 2024: under a punishment that, in practice, is worthless.

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It’s been almost seven years since Russians have not regularly participated in the Olympics, entirely their fault. Between 2011 and 2015, during which they hosted the Sochi Winter Games, they were the protagonists of one of the biggest doping scandals of all time. They were suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency, but the International Olympic Committee allowed demonstrably clean athletes to compete in the Tokyo Summer Games and Beijing Winter Games, for example, without flag or anthem and under the name of Olympic Committee of Russia (acronym ROC , in English).

For every Russian gold, a song by Tchaikovsky played on the podium. Scene, shall we say, somewhat strange.

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The punishment would end at the end of last year… until Russia invaded Ukraine. Russians and Belarusians (allies in the war) suffered new sanctions. In the case of sports like tennis, for example, they can compete on the ATP and WTA professional circuit without their national symbols. The exception was the Wimbledon tournament, which last year banned the participation of athletes from both countries. But, as in the case of Sabalenka with Belarus, does anyone not know that Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev are not Russians? Is there any doubt that it was Russia that won 71 medals in Tokyo?

That’s what revolts, and it’s understandable who defends the total ban in sports competitions. Days ago, the IOC published a statement maintaining the punishment of authorities and governments of Russia and Belarus, but paving the way for them to compete in the Paris Games by saying that “no athlete should be prohibited from competing because of their passport”.

The president of Ukraine, Volodymir Zelenskiy, asked Emmanuel Macron for the two countries not to participate, something that the French president should not accept.

At this moment, members of European Olympic Committees are deciding which side they will be on. The United States, surprisingly, supports the return of the Russians as neutral athletes.

Ukrainians are threatening to boycott the Olympics if nothing changes and the IOC is accused of shaking hands with a country that for years cheated in sport and violated the ideals of the Olympic movement. How many athletes have missed the most important moment of their lives – the Olympic podium – because of a dope Russian?

With the country at war and being bombed, are Ukrainian athletes able to train? The clock is ticking, the war is not over and the race to 2024 is on.

Meanwhile, the IOC welcomed an offer from the Olympic Council of Asia for Russians and Belarusians to compete in the East for qualifying tournaments for Paris-24, but has not decided whether to approve it.

On the other hand, it’s fair to debate whether athletes have to pay the price of a war they don’t support, in countries where they don’t even live anymore. Sabalenka went to celebrate winning the Australian Open in Belarus? Nothing. “I’m going back to Miami, I live there”, she replied with a smile at the corner of her mouth to another reporter’s question, next to the huge trophy he had just won.

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