Sports policy: "spineless": ordeal to return to Russia

The controversy surrounding the possible re-admission of Russian athletes to the Olympic Games in Paris is becoming a crucial test for world sport.

Sports policy: "spineless": ordeal to return to Russia

The controversy surrounding the possible re-admission of Russian athletes to the Olympic Games in Paris is becoming a crucial test for world sport.

"Don't do that, otherwise you'll betray the Olympic spirit," Ukrainian boxing world champion Wladimir Klitschko told IOC boss Thomas Bach in a video message. "I tell you: The Russians are now Olympic champions in crimes against the civilian population," Klitschko warned.

The sports philosopher Gunter Gebauer also attacked the International Olympic Committee and its German President for Russia diplomacy. "It's a kowtow to Russia again," he told the German Press Agency. He considers the strategy pursued by Bach and the IOC Executive Committee to be "much too soft and flexible" towards Vladimir Putin's regime.

"Hypocritical and Spineless"

Estonia was one of the first countries to strictly oppose the IOC plan to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to return to the international sports stage despite the war in Ukraine. For Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, it's "not just hypocritical and spineless," as she wrote on Facebook. Rather, it would be "a direct mockery of the tens of thousands of Ukrainians who lost their lives in the worst crimes against humanity that Europe has seen since the end of World War II."

The head of government of the EU and NATO country does not see any "room for compromises". She called on the governments and parliaments of all countries to support the complete isolation of Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions.

"According to the statutes of the Olympic Games, the National Olympic Committee of a belligerent nation, especially if it is a war of aggression, cannot be invited to the Olympic Games," explained expert Gebauer. The solution sought by the IOC is typical of IOC boss Bach. "He's tactical and trying not to anger Russia," he said.

At the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, it was shown that the appearance of the Russians meant that "neutrality did not last at all". According to Gebauer, the IOC's argument that athletes shouldn't be punished for their nationality doesn't apply: "Most of them are state-sponsored and are encouraged to show state solidarity and show it."

Different points of view

Andreas Michelmann, president of the German handball team and spokesman for the top associations, does not share this assessment. "We clearly condemn Russia's war against Ukraine. There is no excuse for that either," emphasized the 63-year-old. But he also said: "I am in favor of not punishing the athletes for their states, but letting them practice their sport again."

The German canoe world association president Thomas Konietzko does not want to join the IOC's project unreservedly. "There is no line from the IOC to be followed by the federations and National Olympic Committees," he stressed. However, the explanations and proposals of the IOC are the result of a largely coordinated opinion within the Olympic movement.

"However, in the end, each world association has to make its own decision and we will first and foremost consider the effects on our competitions and our association when making our decision," said Konietzko. The discussion is "open-ended". However, the reality in his world federation is that a majority of the national federations - especially the federations from Africa, America and Asia - are against a suspension of athletes only because of their origin.

"Sport should make a unified decision, have a united stance and implement it worldwide," said Dietloff von Arnim, President of the German Tennis Association and candidate for the office of World President, but added: "The IOC wants the sanctions with the approval loosen up again. But I can also understand anyone who says: You have to think about tightening them up."

In tennis, the "worldwide language regulation was adhered to, players from Russia and Belarus - without the national flags - to compete. The DTB followed the world association ITF. "So nothing changes for us," he emphasized: "The only ones The ones who gave up were the Brits last year, who didn't let any players start at Wimbledon and in the previous weeks."

As early as Friday, the argument about a return to Russia could turn into a debate about a boycott of the Paris games. The National Olympic Committee of Ukraine wants to hold a general assembly to discuss whether the country should not take part in the summer games if Russian athletes are admitted.

This could be followed by a wave of boycotts by other countries out of solidarity with Ukraine. "That can happen. You have to see what the discussion will bring," said handball official Michelmann.

Sports expert Gebauer considers an Olympic boycott by countries like Germany to be the wrong approach on this issue. Previous forms of boycotts, such as in Moscow in 1980 and in Los Angeles in 1984, had been relatively unsuccessful and had rather given the other side free rein, he said. A boycott would "not bother the Russians at all, the main thing is that they can lead the medal table," said Gebauer.