Last month, the International Olympic Committee confirmed that Russian and Belarusian athletes will be allowed to compete at this summer’s Olympic Games. Sportsmen and women from these countries will have to compete under a neutral status, meaning their national flags will not be flown. Anthems of these countries will not be played, and the national colors of Russia and Belarus will also not be displayed. Finally, the ICO said Russian and Belarusian government and state officials will not be invited to the Olympic Games.
The announcement was seen as disappointing by many across the globe.
Over the past year, several countries in Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania have opposed Russian and Belarusian participation at the 2024 Olympic Games due to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Over the past two years, the Russians have killed thousands of Ukrainians, and they have destroyed several Ukrainian cities. Meanwhile, Belarus has allowed Russia to deploy Russian troops and store military equipment in its country, and Belarus has permitted Russia to fire rockets on Ukraine from its borders.
Despite the destruction and devastation caused by these two countries, athletes from Russia and Belarus will still be permitted to compete in the 2024 Olympic Games.
Given this decision, numerous countries have now toyed with the idea of boycotting the competition. For several months, these states have argued that Russians and Belarusians should be banned from the Olympic Games. Their statements were ignored, and now they have threatened the IOC with a boycott.
If countries throughout the world were not to participate in this summer’s competition, then the IOC would lose a lot of money. Television sponsors would end their broadcasting agreements and deals. This would result in a decrease in viewership, and this would generate little revenue for the IOC.
Ukrainian artists have created posters to boycott the 2024 Olympics
Now, countries must decide how they will proceed ahead of the competition. Ukraine has already publicly stated that it is considering a boycott. Ukrainian authorities have also said that the IOC cannot be neutral on the war.
To date, the IOC has supported Ukraine during the war, but the international sports organization has also decided that Russians and Belarusians would be allowed to participate in the Games.
What is more worrisome is that a large contingent of the men and women who are committing atrocities in Ukraine will also be allowed to compete in the Olympic Games.
According to Ukrainian news outlet Slidstvo, Russian Olympians have “regularly appear[ed] in public in military uniforms.” They also have received awards from the Russian military.
If these individuals are directly participating in Russia’s operations in the war against Ukraine, then why should their behavior be rewarded at the IOC? Competing with a neutral status will not limit Russian or Belarusian influence at the Olympic Games. Instead, it will be used as a propaganda point. Russian and Belarusian outlets will attempt to portray the situation as normal, and there will be a push to accept the current stage within Ukraine.
Should this summer’s competition continue as is, it could also spell a dangerous precedent. It would signal to other authoritarian rulers around the world that they can attack neighboring states without consequence. These countries could still be allowed to participate in various international organizations, trade on the global market, and engage in sporting activities. It would also cause panic in countries around the world that have neighbors who are either aggressive or who are stronger states. This could lead to further crises, and it would result in greater chaos around the world.
While it is understandable that the IOC is trying to separate sports from politics, the reality is that this cannot be done. Russia’s and Belarus’s activities in Ukraine and those participating in the war are too interwoven. Those engaged in military activities today may find themselves competing in sports activities this summer, and this comes at a time when at least 400 Ukrainian athletes have been killed during Russia’s unjust and brutal war.
Russia’s and Belarus’s activity in Ukraine is wrong, and they must be punished. The IOC still has time to make the right decision and prevent Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in this summer’s Olympic Games. But with the competition being just six months away, time is running out.