World Aquatics will allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in their events moving forward under a neutral flag.
The global governing body announced a new set of criteria on Monday that opens the door for aquatics athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete on the international stage after they were banned from competing in March 2022 due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine that continues to this day.
World Aquatics will allow one Russian and one Belarusian athlete per event to compete at World Aquatics competitions as neutral athletes (with no relays).
In order to be eligible, athletes will need to meet a strict set of criteria that includes showing no support for the war in Ukraine and having no contract with the Russian or Belarusian military.
World Aquatics Criteria For Russian & Belarusian Athletes
- Compliance with all World Aquatics Regulations
- No contract with the Russian or Belarusian military or with any other national security agency
- No support for the war in Ukraine Any form of verbal, non-verbal or written expression, explicit or implicit, at any time since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, in particular public statements, including those made in social media, participation in pro-war demonstrations or events, and the wearing of any symbol in support of the war in Ukraine, for example the “Z” symbol, are considered to be acts of support for the war in Ukraine.
- Compliance with the Anti-Doping requirements set out below in Annex 1
With these restrictions coming into effect “at any time since the beginning of the war in Ukraine,” someone like Olympic gold medalist Evgeny Rylov, who was suspended after showing support for the war, will not be eligible.
The anti-doping protocols being implemented will include a “Focused Anti-Doping Program” that will be administered by the International Testing Agency (ITA) and will include targeted testing, thorough investigations, and close monitoring of the athlete’s biological passport and their whereabouts prior to competition.
Other restrictions include:
- Qualifying times for World Aquatics events must be achieved outside of Russia and Belarus
- No Russian or Belarusian flags displayed at events (World Aquatics flag if necessary)
- No Russian or Belarusian anthems played at events (World Aquatics anthem if necessary)
- Uniforms must be plain white and approved by World Aquatics
- The appearance of any emblems, names, acronyms, or colors linked to Russia or Belarus are prohibited
- Russian and Belarusian athletes will be prohibited from going through the mixed zone and doing any interviews with the media
World Aquatics’ announcement comes after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended that international federations begin exploring a pathway for Russian and Belarusian participation in their events back in late March.
World Aquatics established a task force in April to look into the possibility of having Russian and Belarusian athletes return to competition, and it ultimately came to a head with Monday’s announcement.
The task force surveyed athletes across the elite, junior and masters ranks internationally, and reported that 67 percent support the participation of individual neutral athletes who meet the criteria.
World Aquatics said the results “demonstrate strong support for the key criteria established, including the absence of active support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the omission of national flags and anthems”.
“The World Aquatics Bureau recognizes the dedication, commitment, and talent of athletes, regardless of their nationality,” said World Aquatics President Husain Al Musallam. “Despite the challenges we face on the international stage, we acknowledge our responsibility to foster a competitive, fair, and inclusive environment for every competitor. I would like to thank all those involved in developing the strict and fair approach we have agreed today.“
The IOC recently reversed course on its stance regarding Russian and Belarusian participation at the 2023 Asian Games, saying it was “not feasible due to technical reasons” after previously supporting the idea.
The next opportunity for Russian and Belarusian swimmers to compete in a World Aquatics event would be next month’s World Cup circuit which will visit three European cities: Berlin, Athens and Budapest.
This move also opens the door for Russian and Belarusian swimmers to potentially qualify for the Paris Olympic Games next year—though the IOC hasn’t officially said they’ll be eligible—with the 2024 World Aquatics Championships in February serving as a qualifying opportunity.