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Dozens of Russian athletes are likely to qualify for the Paris Olympics. Will Moscow let them go? – Monomaxos

DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — With 100 days to go until the Paris Olympics, it’s still not clear whether any athletes from Russia who are expected to qualify will actually go.

The question is whether Moscow will accept the conditions that the International Olympic Committee set for Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. Ultimately, it could be up to individual athletes to decide whether to participate.

The IOC expects that 36 Russian athletes — and possibly as many as 54 — will do well enough at qualifying events to compete in Paris.

The IOC will let them compete as “neutral athletes,” meaning they can’t use their country’s flag or anthem or participate in team sports such as soccer and basketball. Athletes with links to the military or who have expressed support for the war will be banned.

The same restrictions apply to Russian ally Belarus. Athletes from Russia and Belarus also aren’t allowed to take part in the opening ceremony on July 26.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has questioned the rules and asked the Russian Olympic Committee and the Sports Ministry to submit recommendations on whether the country’s athletes should compete in Paris.

The ROC and Sports Ministry have sharply contrasting views.

In social media posts, ROC President Stanislav Pozdnyakov alleged the IOC “again and again thinks up illegitimate criteria” for athletes and “consistently carries out external political orders to isolate Russian sport.” On April 5, he likened Russian tennis players who are willing to compete in Paris to “a team of foreign agents,” saying that they mostly play and earn money outside Russia and are critical of its policies. Pozdnyakov himself holds the rank of colonel in the Russian military.

Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin, however, has said Russia should not boycott the Olympics.

“We must preserve the possibility of dialogue as much as possible and take part in competitions,” Matytsin said last month in comments reported by state news agency Tass.

Russia sent 335 athletes to Tokyo in 2021 — winning 20 golds among 71 total medals. They competed without national symbols at that Olympics and at the Winter Games in 2018 and 2022 because of a doping scandal.

Ukraine opposes Russians participating at the Paris Olympics in any capacity but eased its policy of boycotting events where “neutral” Russians compete.

IOC President Thomas Bach suggested last month “threats of boycotts” from the two countries were no longer an issue.

“Now we can say this discussion, at this moment in time, is over,” Bach told a gathering of Pacific sports officials in Fiji. “We still have different opinions. One saying we have been going too far with the sanctions for those who violated the Olympic Charter. Others are saying we have not gone far enough. Normally this shows you that you’re in a good position if both sides are not 100% happy.”

The IOC’s stance on Russia has led to scattered calls for it to take a similar approach with Israel over the war in Gaza. Bach ruled that out last month.

A neutral Russian delegation would consist mostly of athletes who participate in combat sports such as judo and wrestling and probably several of the world’s top tennis players, including former U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev. He told Russian newspaper Sport-Express this month that he planned to compete in Paris. At least three Russian cyclists and one trampolinist are also likely to be included.

Ukrainian activists are tracking Russian athletes’ social media activity and flagging anything they believe breaches IOC neutrality rules.

One athlete who has been closely watched is two-time gold medalist wrestler Abdulrashid Sadulaev. He was initially approved to take part in Olympic qualifiers but was stripped of that status on April 4 in light of what wrestling’s governing body said was “new information about his support of the Ukraine-Russia war.” The Ukrainian National Olympic Committee sent an open letter Friday to Bach alleging nine other qualified Russian wrestlers and one Belarusian had supported the war.

Twelve Russians have qualified so far in wrestling alone and more could follow next month.

Judo, a favored sport of Putin’s since childhood, could have 10 to 12 Russians in Paris, the International Judo Federation estimates.

However, some influential Russian coaches and officials have refused to send their athletes to qualifying events.

The Russian rowing federation said it would snub upcoming qualifiers in protest of what its president called “discriminatory conditions.”

Swimming and gymnastics have opened neutral athlete applications. But it’s not clear whether leading Russian athletes even applied. Dozens of applications from Belarusians were approved.

Whatever is decided in Moscow, Russia will not compete in Olympic track and field.

The sport’s governing body, World Athletics, has not backed off its ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes at competitions it runs, including Olympic events.

___ AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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