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IOC chief Thomas Bach echoes call for Russian return during Paris visit

PARIS – Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief, on Friday echoed his call for the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to competition as individual neutrals after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

Both Bach and Mr Macron discussed the Paris Olympics in 2024, and confirmed that the decision regarding the participation of athletes from the two countries would be “taken in due course by the IOC”, according to a statement from the Olympic body.

Russian and Belarusian athletes have faced differing sanctions from a multitude of sports since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, with Belarus a close ally.

In March, the IOC recommended that these athletes return to international competition as neutrals, without commenting on their possible presence at the Paris Games.

On Friday, on the sidelines of a meeting with refugee athletes, Bach once again detailed the conditions allowing the return of the excluded athletes.

“It’s also very clear – no team and no delegations. It’s about individual neutral athletes who have to be entered as you can see here at Roland Garros,” he said of tennis players competing in the French Open in Paris, which included top names like Russian Daniil Medvedev and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

“No Russian flag, no Russian anthem, no colours, no national identification whatsoever. And this is how these world championships have been working.

“More and more international federations are applying these conditions and this formula. So, at the end, I’m very confident the spirit of sport and this unique fighting spirit will prevail.”

Since the IOC’s decision in March to advocate the return of Russians and Belarusians, the debate over their reinstatement has remained heated.

Fourteen months before the Paris Olympics, the international federations are not all in agreement on the issue, although many have already acted on the IOC’s recommendation and welcomed the athletes back.

Meanwhile, the IOC has also said that the global sporting showpiece in Paris will be “Games of a new era” and that the “Games wide open” slogan will fully come to life at the event.

“Paris 2024 will be the most inclusive Olympic Games, the most urban Olympic Games, the youngest Olympic Games, the most sustainable Olympic Games and the most gender-balanced Olympic Games in history, with full parity of female and male athletes,” it claimed. AFP