Poland slams IOC decision on Russian athletes’ return to competitions

A view of the Soviet-era sculpture 'Emblem of the 1980 Summer Olympics', in Podolsk, outside Moscow, Russia. Photo: EPA/MAXIM SHIPENKOV

A Polish deputy foreign minister has sharply criticized the International Olympic Committee’s recommendation that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be able to take part in international competitions under a neutral flag.

“This is a very bad decision which gives arguments to the Russian propaganda,” Piotr Wawrzyk said. “This is a day of shame for the IOC,” he told the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

According to Wawrzyk, this decision will allow Vladimir Putin to maintain that “the West has started to weaken, that Russia’s tough stance has started to produce results and that soon they [the West] would start lifting more sanctions.”

The IOC on Tuesday issued recommendations for the gradual return to international competitions for Russian and Belarusian athletes under a neutral flag provided that they did not actively support the war in Ukraine and were not military sports club members.

The IOC Executive Board’s recommendations relate only to the return of those athletes to international competitions but not the 2024 Olympics where a separate decision will be taken at a later date, President Thomas Bach said.

Bach added that Ukraine, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania had threatened to boycott the Olympic Games in Paris if Russian and Belarusian sportspersons were allowed to compete.

Wawrzyk also said that, in his opinion, Poland should not take part in competitions with Russian and Belarusian athletes but underlined that such a decision should not be taken by one country.

“It should be worked out by a broader forum, for instance, by EU members or other countries which jointly impose sanctions on Russia,” he said and added that “it will be important only when it is taken by a larger group.”

‘A scandal and betrayal’

The decision of the International Olympic Committee allowing Russian athletes to compete is a scandal and betrayal of a true sports spirit,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Twitter later in the day. “I have asked Sports Minister Kamil Bortniczuk to inform the IOC authorities about our firm objection,” Morawiecki said, declaring that Poland would do its best to keep sports free from Russian influences.

Having expressed regret over the IOC's decision, the Polish Olympic Committee (PKOl) came out against the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the 2024 Paris Olympics until Russia’s aggression against Ukraine ended.

“The PKOl, along with other countries and Olympic Committees, will be doing its best to convince the IOC to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from taking part in the Paris Olympics,” reads the statement issued by the PKOl.

“Their participation can result in divisions both among countries and in the Olympic Movement,” the PKOl said, adding that its stance was convergent with the position of the Polish Sports Ministry and the declaration of the Polish sports unions signed on February 23.

The IOC had sanctioned Russia and Belarus after the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine but last month issued a statement saying that “no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport.” The suggestion followed the intervention of two UN experts who urged the IOC to ensure “the non-discrimination of any athlete on the basis of their nationality.”