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IOC hits back at Putin claim of “ethnic discrimination” against Russia’s potential Olympic athletes

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The International Olympic Committee dismissed on Friday claims by Russian President Vladimir Putin of “ethnic discrimination” against athletes who are excluded from international sport.

The IOC has advised sports bodies this year to vet Russian athletes for returning to compete as neutral individuals without a national identity ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics while continuing to exclude teams.

Neutral status can be approved for athletes who have not actively supported the war and are not contracted to military or state security agencies, though there have been inconsistencies in how dozens of different sports have applied rules.

“We firmly reject the accusations being made that these measures are an ‘ethnic discrimination,’” the IOC said in a statement one day after Putin’s speech.

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“They are a reaction to the breach of the Olympic Charter by the Russian and Belarusian governments,” the Olympic body said, referring to the military invasion of Ukraine starting in February 2022 four days after the Beijing Winter Games closed. The United Nations-backed Olympic Truce was still in force.

Putin also reportedly complained Thursday that invitations to the Olympics were not being given as a right for the best athletes.

However, the Olympic Charter details: “Nobody is entitled as of right to participate in the Olympic Games.”

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“Any entry is subject to acceptance by the IOC, which may at its discretion, at any time, refuse any entry, without indication of grounds” is stated in article 44 of the book of rules and principles guiding Olympic sports.

Though the IOC last year urged a blanket isolation of Russia and Belarus from international sport, that position eased to become an aim to avoid discrimination based on an individual’s passport once qualifying events for Paris approached.

The IOC said Friday the “strict conditions” it has defined for evaluating “individual neutral athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport” comply with the charter.

The charter also states each national Olympic committee (NOC) “is obliged to participate in the Games of the Olympiad by sending athletes.”

Though the IOC suspended the Russian NOC last week — for incorporating as members sports councils from occupied regions of eastern Ukraine — it can still directly invite athletes through the governing body of their sport.

IOC president Thomas Bach also has consistently said it is empowered to take a decision that could exclude all Russians from Paris ahead of the July 26 opening ceremony.

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AP coverage of the Paris Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games