IOC President Bach Explains Stance on Russia Sanctions

During the 139th International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session last Friday, IOC president Thomas Bach offered in-depth insight into the organization’s stance on sanctioning Russia for its war on Ukraine. The IOC’s current policy includes banning events in Russia and ally Belarus as well as asking International Federations to remove Russian and Belarusian athletes from their events.

“[W]hy are our sanctions limited to the government and national symbols and not extended to all members of the Russian Olympic community?” Bach asked. “The answer is: according to international rule of law, sanctions can and should only be imposed on those who are responsible for something. This war has not been started by the Russian people, the Russian athletes, the Russian Olympic Committee or the IOC Members in Russia.”

Both Russian members of the IOC, former Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva and Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpishchev, did not participate in Friday’s session despite Bach’s support, according to Reuters

“Imagine where the precedent of such a breach of the rule of law by us would lead to,” he added. “Every individual, every athlete, every sports official, every sports organization would have to be punished for any illegitimate political action of their governments. There is no justice if you paint everyone with the same brush. This would even be counterproductive because it would play into the propaganda of those who are claiming that sanctions are just a part of a wider conspiracy directed against their country.

“By the way, our approach is in line with the governments who are also bound by this rule of law when it comes to their sanctioning measures. Also they cannot sanction individuals only because of the passport they hold. Therefore, we are monitoring closely who is supporting this war with their statements or actions and have drawn and will draw the necessary consequences.”

Bach explained that the IOC’s recommendation against Russian and Belarusian athletes competing internationally was a protective measure rather than a punishment.

“Let me emphasize again that these are protective measures – not sanctions – measures to protect the integrity of competitions,” Bach said. “The safety of the Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials could not be guaranteed because of the deep anti-Russian and anti-Belarusian feelings in so many countries following the invasion.”

In defending the IOC’s decision not to pursue further sanctions against Russia and Belarus, Bach argued against what he referred to as “the full politicization of sport.”

“We had to move quickly because it was evident that governments wanted to decide who can take part in which international competitions,” he said. “This is true not only for governments of host countries of such competitions. There are governments who prohibit athletes from their country to take part in any competition with Russian or Belarusian athletes. There are governments who are threatening to withdraw funding from any athlete who would participate in such a competition. There are governments who are putting public and political pressure on National Olympic Committees and national sports federations.

“We had to and continue to have to consider this situation from the end. Today it is Russia and Belarus, but if we do not act, tomorrow it will be the government from country A not wanting athletes from country B to participate. Or government C demanding its athletes not to compete against athletes from country D and so on and so forth.

“This would be a situation that is contrary to all the principles we are based on,” Bach continued. “If it is in the hands of politicians to decide who can take part in which competition, then the nondiscriminatory foundation of our global sports system is gone. This would be the full politicization of sport. This would mean that sport and the athletes would become just a tool of the political sanctions system.”

At the same time, Bach didn’t understate the importance of the current political moment, calling it “a turning point in world history.”

“When I say it’s a turning point in history, I think everybody agrees that the world will look different after this war, there will be a new world order and you see already developing a new world security order [with Finland and Sweden asking to join NATO],” he said. “And we cannot ignore this.”

Bach also conceded that the IOC is not living up to its mission of uniting the world through sports. 

“Our task is, whenever it comes to a political circumstances interfering in our mission, in our work, is to do everything we can to keep the Olympic Games, and to keep sport, beyond politics as much as possible,” he said. “Then, we have to face these realities, and this is why we took the protective measures, and this is why are saying we are conscious of the fact – we regret the fact that at this moment in time – we can not live up to our mission. We cannot have this uniting power of a peaceful competition in sports. And this hurts, and on the other hand, encourages us to work even harder, and it encourages us also to hope even more that as soon as possible, peace will prevail.”

With qualification events for the 2024 Olympics in Paris starting soon, Bach remained vague regarding Russian and Belarusian participation. “We have to take this step-by-step,” he said. Until the so-called next step, the sanctions will stay in place, but they’re unlikely to worsen based on Bach’s recent comments. Those sanctions include losing hosting privileges for aquatics events such as the Short Course World Championships, which were recently moved from Kazan, Russia, to Melbourne, Australia. 

During his speech, Bach also mentioned that the IOC’s relationship with the Russian political leadership has “dramatically deteriorated over the past years.”

“It deteriorated following the doping scandal, cyber attacks, and even personal threats to individuals from the IOC and Olympic Movement,” he said.

His full comments can be found here.

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Awsi Dooger
1 month ago

I kept looking for the word barbarians

BearlyBreathing
1 month ago

>protective measure
He makes a good point. Russia should be protected from the Olympics indefinitely.

Failed Presidency
1 month ago

Bach (the IOC) is on a different page than those codgers at FINA. His approach is fairer to the athletes.

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 came to SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor in the …

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