A path to the Paris 2024 Olympics appears to have opened up for Russian and Belarusian athletes.
The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) invited Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in this year’s Asian Games taking place in the Chinese city of Hangzhou from Sept. 23 to Oct. 8.
“The OCA believes in the unifying power of sport and that all athletes, regardless of their nationality or the passport they hold, should be able to compete in sports competitions,” the OCA said in a statement.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has expressed its desire for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at Paris 2024 as neutrals under the Olympic flag, but they remain unable to qualify in Europe due to restrictions stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February. Belarus has assisted in the war, which Russia calls a “special military operation.” While they are currently barred from global sporting events, those bans don’t necessarily extend to continental events, though they have in swimming so far.
In a statement, the IOC said it “welcomed and appreciated the offer from the Olympic Council of Asia to give these (Russian and Belarusian) athletes access to Asian competitions.”
About 75% of the Russian population lives on the European continent, but about 75% of Russian territory is on the Asian continent. Russian sporting federations have long favored their cultural ties to Europe over their geographic ties to Asia when choosing their continental sporting bodies, but that could change now for political reasons.
Olympic champion Vladimir Salnikov, now the head of the All-Russia Swimming Federation, said his reception by European governing body LEN has been more strained by global events than his relationship with FINA. As we reported last month, this makes sense as European nations are currently feeling more fear about what could happen if Russia’s expansion didn’t stop at Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russia maintains allies in Asia such as Iran, India, and China.
The move from Europe to Asia could make it easier for Russia to qualify for Paris 2024 in some sports. Asian swimming is very good at the top with China, Japan, and South Korea, but it doesn’t have the same depth as Europe. In water polo, the Russian men haven’t qualified for the Olympics since 2004, but that could change soon as the sport is less developed in Asia than in Europe.
Russia’s inclusion in the Asian Games figures to make it more difficult for other countries to qualify in sports where there’s a set number of qualifying slots. It’s unknown yet if Asia will increase its number of qualifying slots for the continent to adjust for Russia’s arrival.
Olympic qualifying procedures have already begun in some sports with many more scheduled throughout the year.