IOC ‘Beginning to Think About’ Letting Russian Athletes Return to Competition

by Riley Overend 33

September 16th, 2022 International, News, Paris 2024

A U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) press conference this week provided the first hints of a possible return to international competition for Russian athletes. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) asked all international federations to prevent Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing internationally — a protective measure, they insisted — after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. But according to USOPC chair Susanne Lyons, the IOC’s stance could be softening soon. 

“This Olympic Movement is really built on the notion that athletes from around the world should be able to come together in peace and be able to compete with respect, equality and friendship,” Lyons said Thursday after the USOPC Board meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday. “And we very much espouse that. That’s really the foundational reason why we have all of these athletes doing what they do.

“So, we know that the IOC is beginning to think about whether there is a pathway back for the Russian athletes,” she added. “They are beginning to reach out to all of their stakeholders, including the NOCs, the International Federations to get input on that topic. So I don’t think any decisions have been made yet, but I think all of us feel that at some point in time, the individual athletes should not be the victims of whatever their individual governments (do, regardless of) political or other tensions are around the world.

“So I think, inevitably, there will be a desire to see athletes who happen to reside in Russia, come back and be part of competitions, but what the timing is and what the pathway looks like is to be determined.”

The comments signal a slight change of tone, but the IOC has actually never directly sanctioned Russian sports bodies such as the Russian Olympic Committee during the recent conflict in Ukraine. 

Asked about how Russia’s detainment of American basketball star Brittney Griner impacts those conversations, USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland responded that she’s “not sure they are directly related” from a policy perspective. Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was sentenced to nine years of jail time in Russia last month for smuggling less than a gram of cannabis oil into the country back in February. 

“I think that while there may be a natural, sort of conflation of those issues, the reality is the conversation around Russian athletes is around how you actually separate, and try to avoid punishing Russian athletes for the decisions of the government,” Hirshland said. “And I think that’s the motivation of conversation. 

“But it’s not lost on anyone in the United States that she’s there and it’s really very top-of-mind for all of us,” she added. “So it’s hard not to conflate the issues and it’s hard not to bring them together, even though I think from a policy perspective, I’m not sure they are directly related.”

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
4 months ago

On Ancient Greece, all war stopped during the Olympic Games. If Russia is willing to stop their dumb war agains Ukraine, they can participate. In the spirit of the idea and ideals of the original Olympic Games.
But to not be hypocritical… all other participating nations need to agree to stop all wars they’re engaged in as well.

Replace FINA
Reply to  FST
4 months ago

This is actually a great idea. The global geopolitical situation is a bit tense, and the increasing open opposition to US global hegemony is probably going to result in some more proxy wars popping up this decade. Under such circumstances it might be invigorating to the Olympic movement to be attached to something tangible, a holiday of sorts in the spirit of humanity that grants temporary relief and respite, and distance itself from the cold war influenced politcs that sitll in many way dominate the games.

While that sounds incredible, inactual reality I doubt the IOC has the political capital to pull something like that off, and even if they did the IOC in practice behaves like a large corporation.

4 months ago

This comes out from the IOC on a day they think the mass grave they found in Eastern Ukraine has perhaps 400 bodies or more in it, many of which show signs of torture by Russian troops.
No reprieve for Mr. Putin’s puppets.
Also curious….is FINA still out of competition drug testing these athletes during their banishment? Because…yeah. That might be a thing also.
Leave it to the IOC to be utterly tone deaf on a grisly news day.
Wonder how much Putin offered them.

4 months ago

Put it clearly: Ms. Hirshland convoluted responses and apparent absence of moral underpinning are distressing. Is that her opening gambit in a negotiation? Have the Russians named their price to her privately? Will she also offer to apologize? I am embarrassed to think that she is representing us on the international scene (IOC?). I am also relieved RP that she is not our Secretary of State.

Joel Lin
4 months ago

Swimmers entered under a Russian flag cap is the wrong call for inclusion, isn’t good for the sport or for the spirit of international sport. It’s even more problematic to me that any Russian athlete would want to represent their country now as that could only be perceived as tacit approval of the regime.

4 months ago

There will be a time for RUS to return to international sport but it should not conceivably occur until this Ukraine mess is “settled” ….. and that certainly doesn’t mean in favour of Putin.

Is he/his the only nasty (select your adjective)/authoritarian regime ? No, but he’s the one who’s currently ‘crossed the line’.

There’s nothing wrong with putting together protocols regarding “return to civilisation” for such countries/competitors from these countries but making public statements like this is completely tone-deaf on the part of IOC but, let’s be real, most IOC officials seem to exist in a parallel universe.

4 months ago

Russian passports should no longer be recognized.

No Russian should be allowed to travel to the west until all of Ukraine is liberated.

Russians currently abroad should be expelled.

Putin and his enablers should be tried for war crimes.

Never forget, never stop holding them accountable for these atrocities.

Tracy Kosinski
Reply to  Chachi
4 months ago


Reply to  Chachi
4 months ago

Russia is nothing more than a gas station run by ISIS. Treat it as such.

Tracy Kosinski
4 months ago

As long as they stop supporting Putin. They should get out of there ASAP and train in Europe or the Americas!. Bottom line is that it’s not fair that some are suffering for the atrocities of others.

If they’re willing to leave their country and show support for Ukraine, IOC should let them.

4 months ago

Negative. No mercy until they leave the Ukraine at least. Not a single person representing that flag should complete. No it’s “not fair to the athletes” but listen, sports are just entertainment at the end of the day and their are people dying because of Russia. Sports can wait until this war is over.

Chinas concentration camps should also earn them a ban but nobody wants to talk about that either

Tracy Kosinski
Reply to  Ragnar
4 months ago

Yes, they have to leave and show support for Ukraine. No other way.

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

Read More »