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Russian athletes won’t be barred from the Paris Olympics despite their country’s suspension

MUMBAI, India (AP) — Russian athletes can be directly invited to next year’s Paris Games despite the suspension of their country’s Olympic committee, the IOC said Friday.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach commented on the issue a day after the Russian Olympic Committee was suspended for violating the territorial integrity of its Ukrainian counterpart by unilaterally adding sports councils in four occupied regions as members.

Isolating the ROC, which now is blocked from getting millions of dollars in IOC revenue, won’t affect the process of evaluating individual Russian athletes for neutral status to help them qualify for and compete at the Paris Olympics.

“These will be direct invitations which we will manage with international federations and, if needed, then with the respective national federations,” Bach said at a news conference.

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Bach reiterated the current IOC position that “we do not punish or sanction athletes for the acts of their officials or government.”

Still, Russian Olympic Committee board members such as pole vault great Yelena Isinbayeva who are still current or honorary members of the IOC can retain those expenses-paid privileges, including attending the meetings in Mumbai.

“They are not the representatives of Russia in the IOC,” Bach said. “They are the representatives of the IOC in Russia.”

Asked about talks between the IOC and Russian officials before the ban was decided, Bach said it was explained from Moscow that the Duma parliament passed a law annexing the Ukrainian regions.

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“The ROC did nothing else but to follow this law,” Bach said, relaying the Russian explanation. “This is, I guess, in a nutshell, the core of the response.”

The IOC intervened because it said the territorial violation was a breach of the Olympic Charter — the book of rules and principles guiding international sports.

In a similar case in 2016, the IOC did not act when the Russian Olympic Committee incorporated sports bodies in Crimea and Sevastopol.

“This is a comparison you cannot make because the IOC never accepted the annexation of Crimea,” Bach said. “In fact we did not have, at the time in 2016 when this question came up, we did not have issues with the nationality of athletes participating in the (Rio de Janeiro) Olympic Games.”

Four months after the 2016 Games, the ROC incorporated the Crimean sports body.

The IOC position on the war in Ukraine has eased during the past year. A stronger stance had been taken within days of Russian forces invading Ukraine in February 2022. Then, the IOC urged sports governing bodies to exclude Russian athletes and teams.

Bach has previously pointed to the gravity of Russia breaching the United Nations-backed Olympic Truce by starting the war only four days after the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

On Friday, he repeated the IOC’s recent claim that athletes worldwide, and especially from Africa, want Russian athletes who have not supported the war to return to competition.

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