The once proud sporting nation of Russia is in deep conflict when it comes to the Olympics in Paris. Because of the International Olympic Committee's requirements for Russian athletes to take part in the Summer Games, the debate about a boycott is also simmering.
Irina Winer, the president of the Rhythmic Gymnastics Association, complained in Moscow's state media that the IOC's conditions were unreasonable. If the Russian gymnasts competed “without a flag, without an anthem, without fans,” then it would be “degrading.”
All sports associations in the country should stay away from the games in Paris from July 26th to August 11th, demands the 75-year-old, an ardent supporter of the war of aggression against Ukraine started by Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin. "No, we will not fall on our knees, we will not 'surrender' in a white costume and with a white flag," Winer also told the Russian military television station Zvezda.
IOC: Participation only under a neutral flag
According to the wishes of the IOC, only individual athletes from Russia are allowed to compete at the Olympics; teams are excluded. The athletes are not allowed to belong to an army sports club - as is often the case - nor are they allowed to support Russia's war against Ukraine. The prerequisite is that – as with the sanctions for state doping – they are only allowed to take part under a neutral flag.
Russian politicians have recently made suggestions not to grant athletes state support for the trip to Paris. The first deputy head of the Defense Committee in the Russian Parliament, Alexei Shurawlyov, even compared participation in the Olympics to “treason.” He suggested "additional consultations" for the travelers to clarify "whether they support Russian policy."
Russian President Putin, who has long been close to IOC boss Thomas Bach, has repeatedly advocated for a politics-free Olympic Games. The 71-year-old also recently explicitly warned against “ethnic discrimination” against Russians in sport.
Belarus, which supports Putin's war against Ukraine, is also affected by the sanctions. In December, Putin finally advocated leaving it up to the athletes themselves whether they take part or not.
It is also clear to Putin that the majority of Russians cannot compete in Paris under any circumstances simply because they are members of a sports club affiliated with the army or other security structures in the country. The power apparatus usually likes to adorn itself with state-sponsored athletes - Putin has repeatedly awarded the best of them with high military ranks after successfully participating in the Olympics.
Ukraine calls for Russia to be excluded
In the past, around half of these participants in the games were often connected to these security structures, as the newspaper "Vedomosti" reported. Not everyone wants to be labeled as staunch supporters of war today. But clear words against the war are still rare among Russia's athletes.
And in Paris too, the few Olympic starters from Russia will ultimately be seen by many as representatives of the belligerent nation. In particular, Ukraine, which was attacked by Moscow, had always called for Russia to be completely excluded and accused the IOC of giving in to Putin.
There is no uniform picture among Russian athletes when it comes to Paris. According to media in Moscow, dozens of Russians have changed their "sports citizenship" to compete for other countries at the Olympics.
Some, like two-time Olympic swimming champion Yevgeny Rylov, decided not to take part in the Olympics. Others, like high jump world champion Marija Lassizkene, still want to train to be in shape if they are approved. The World Athletics Association continues to exclude Russians and Belarusians from its competitions.
Russia with a rival event to the Olympics
The head of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROK), Stanislav Pozdnyakov, recently emphasized that the athletes would have to decide anyway whether they would take part in the Olympics in Paris or - Moscow is now enticing with this - in the first World Friendly Games. The World Friendship Games are scheduled for September 15-29 in Moscow and Yekaterinburg.
An advertising film talks about a new world sporting event for people from all “corners of the planet” and “significant prize money”. The friendly games, other new international competitions and a large sports parade on Red Square ordered by Putin like in Soviet times are intended to console Russia's isolation.
Ten years ago, Putin himself was the proud host of the Winter Olympics in Sochi on the Black Sea. A few days after the end of the 2014 Games, he annexed the Crimean peninsula and also escalated the situation in eastern Ukraine. Today, instead of Olympic joy, athletes are supposed to convey hurrah-patriotism about the imperial incorporation of Ukrainian territories.
The debate about participation in Paris is far from over. The ROK has now decided to pay compensation for former Olympic participants who are guaranteed not to go to Paris. The compensation ranges from 150,000 rubles for simple former participants to 500,000 rubles (around 5,000 euros) for Olympic champions. However, only one amount is paid per person - no matter how many medals he or she has.