The US supports Russian athletes to compete as neutrals in the Olympics

The United States has stood against Ukraine to help Russian athletes compete in the Paris 2024 Olympics, but only if they make that compromise.

The United States supports efforts to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete in the 2024 Olympics as neutral athletes, provided they are prevented from displaying their national flags or emblems, the White House said Thursday.

“The United States supported the suspension of the national sports federations of Russia and Belarus by the international sports federations,” spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

However, when athletes are invited to an international event like the Olympics, “it should be absolutely clear that they do not represent the Russian or Belarusian states,” she said.

“The use of official Russian, Belarusian state flags, emblems and anthems should also be banned.” The US position adds to a growing debate over the status of athletes from Russia and Belarus at the Paris 2024 Games.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy firmly rejects any participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and calls for a ban on Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine.

Russia is pushing for the lifting of all restrictions, arguing that the Olympics should not be politicized.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said it is exploring a “way” for Russians to compete in the Summer Games, likely as neutral athletes.

Zelenskyy tweeted shortly after the White House comments on Thursday, describing the IOC’s stance as “legitimizing criminal aggression against Ukraine.”

“We will not allow sport to be used against humanity and for war propaganda!” Zelensky tweeted.

The IOC’s willingness to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes in Paris has divided the sporting and diplomatic world.

On Wednesday, two UN legal experts welcomed the IOC’s moves to allow athletes from both countries to compete, arguing that no athlete should be “discriminated against on the basis of their nationality”. The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has also supported the IOC’s efforts to create a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes.

In a December conference call, USOPC chair Susanne Lyons warned that the “fabric” of the Olympic movement would be at risk if athletes weren’t given a chance to compete as neutrals.

The exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes from Paris risked a return to the Olympic boycotts of the 1970s and 1980s.

“There’s conflict every day around the world, countries are at war every day, and when people decide to boycott things, tit-for-tat, – ‘You didn’t come to our games, so we don’t come to yours games’ – the fabric of the Olympic and Paralympic movements is crumbling very quickly,” said Lyons.

But US Olympic officials insist athletes could only compete in “strictly neutral” uniforms.

Similar words of support came from the Olympic Council of Asia and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

But Britain, Poland and the Baltic States have all condemned the IOC’s position. Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics tweeted after meeting his Baltic and Polish counterparts in Riga earlier this week that allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in the Olympics was “immoral and wrong”. British Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said the IOC’s plans were “worlds removed from the reality of war felt by the Ukrainian people”. “We will strongly condemn any action that allows President Putin to legitimize his illegal war in Ukraine – a position previously shared by the IOC,” Donelan said.

“We and many other countries have consistently spoken out in no uncertain terms on this issue and we will now urgently work in like-minded countries to ensure solidarity on this issue continues.”

Originally released as United States to support the Russian move to compete as neutrals in the Paris 2024 Olympics The US supports Russian athletes to compete as neutrals in the Olympics

Ryan Sederquist

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