Olympic sports leaders meet amid uncertainty over Russians competing at 2024 Paris Games
FiILE - The Olympic rings are seen in front of the Paris City Hall, in Paris, Sunday, April 30, 2023. French security experts have expressed misgivings about size and complexity of the security operation that will be needed to safeguard Paris' ambitions for the unprecedented opening gala along the River Seine (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard, File)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Complex questions about if — and how — Russian athletes could return to their competitions ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics looked far from being resolved when sports governing bodies met Wednesday.

Different sports have varying sporting, political and logistical pressures, and there’s a lack of clarity about how to define neutral status for Russian and Belarusian athletes that is mandatory for their return on the field of play.

“Every sport has its own idea. We are far in my opinion to have a common position, it is quite impossible,” Francesco Ricci Bitti, president of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) and a veteran of Olympic politics, said.

The ASOIF annual meeting came two months after the International Olympic Committee gave detailed advice on how individual athletes from Russia and its military ally Belarus could be reintegrated as neutral athletes, despite those countries' ongoing war on Ukraine.

Exactly how that neutrality is being defined is not very much clearer now as key qualification events start for the Olympics that open in July next year.

The IOC in March advised that some Russians and Belarusians could return in individual events but not team sports, if they had not actively supported the war in Ukraine, and are not contracted to “military or national security agencies.”

The IOC also suggested ASOIF and the winter sports umbrella group, AIOWF, could oversee “creating a single independent panel” to run and “harmonise” the neutral status evaluations of hundreds of athletes, coaches and support staff.

That idea was dismissed “strongly and firmly,” Ricci Bitti said, as a conflict of interest for his umbrella group. The Court of Arbitration for Sport is now involved in the process.

IOC president Thomas Bach briefly attended Wednesday and said some governing bodies of the 32-sport Paris program, who have ultimate control over their own events, had proven how Russian and Belarusians could continue to compete.

“You are doing so against the backdrop of the many traditional, I may say, naysayers who want to make people believe that it would never work,” Bach said. He did not speak with reporters when leaving after his speech.

Bach and the IOC led calls within days of the invasion of Ukraine in February of last year to banish Russia from international sport, including to protect the security of athletes.

As the war continued and the 2024 Olympics approached, the IOC and Bach started to suggest it was discrimination to exclude all Russians and Belarusians. If approved to compete, the IOC said, Russian and Belarusians would not be allowed to use their flag, anthem or uniforms in national colors.

Various pressures on the Olympic sports to make the IOC policy work include the influence in sports and governments of Ukraine’s European allies, and which countries are due to host key events.

In gymnastics, a top-tier Summer Games sport where Russians excel, a decision on reintegrating them was pushed back to at least July. World championships that are a key qualifier for Paris start September 30 in Antwerp, Belgium.

On the sporting side, tennis does not want to class doubles and mixed doubles as team sports, Ricci Bitti said, testing the limits of the IOC guidance.

Track and field has taken the strongest stance by excluding all Russians while the International Judo Federation let some Russians compete in Qatar at its worlds this month, an event which was boycotted by Ukraine. The IJF’s honorary president until last year was Vladimir Putin, who is an expert judoka.

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