Two-time Olympic gold medalist Evgeny Rylov told Russian media that he will refuse to sign a political declaration in exchange for a return to international competition.
Russia invaded Ukraine last February, prompting World Aquatics to ban Russian and Belarusian swimmers from international competition until earlier this month, when the global governing body approved conditions for their return as neutral athletes. However, it appears that Rylov would rather miss the Paris 2024 Olympics than condemn the war started by his country.
World Aquatics’ criteria for readmission included “no support for the war in Ukraine,” which includes “participation in pro-war demonstrations or events, and the wearing of any symbol in support of the war in Ukraine.” If approved, only one Russian and Belarusian athlete would be allowed per event in competition, and they would be restricted from displaying national flags, playing national anthems, or giving interviews.
All-Russian Swimming Federation president Vladimir Salnikov reportedly indicated that anti-war statements could be prerequisites for athletes such as Rylov, who was already suspended nine months after showing support for the war on stage at one of Vladimir Putin‘s rallies in Moscow.
“I recently re-read these recommendations,” Rylov reportedly told Match TV. “You can count on your fingers how many athletes meet these requirements. If necessary, everyone will go, but I only speak for myself: if I have to sign such a declaration, I will refuse. I don’t want to accept their conditions. Even if we are obliged to compete under a neutral flag, which we have already done successfully, it is clear that we can achieve this. However, this whole thing has become a habit. There was a time when they thought that we had to go through this, but their impudence continues to grow.
“In any case, I am waiting for this situation to be finalized,” Rylov added. “Signing the declaration means saying your country is bad. We are waiting to see what will happen next. There are criteria and recommendations, but no one knows how this situation will develop. For now we are preparing for our competitions, which will be held in Russia. I believe that we should only compete if we are fully restored in all our rights, otherwise we will remain neutral athletes for the rest of our lives.”
The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) said that it would financially compensate athletes for their inability to compete in international sports tournaments, including “those who, on moral grounds, have declined to sign documents [condemning Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine] and have not taken part in such actions.”
The Russian Sports Ministry said that as many as 55 Russian Olympians had switched sporting nationalities amid sanctions from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Distance specialist and open water standout Anastasiya Kirpichnikova was one of them, attaining French citizenship in April.
Earlier this month, the IOC changed its mind about Russian and Belarusian participation at the Asian Games next week in Hangzhou, China, denying them entry to the competition without explaining why.
“The concept of the participation of athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports at the Asian Games 2023 was explored as discussed at the Olympic Summit in December 2022, but was not feasible due to technical reasons,” the IOC told the Indian Express.
Russian and Belarusian swimmers’ best bet to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics will likely be the 2024 World Championships five months from now in Doha, Qatar.
Ukraine previously said its athletes would boycott any international event where Russians are present, but that stance seems to have softened in recent months amid criticism from IOC president Thomas Bach and artistic swimmers Maryna and Vladyslava Aleksiiva.