World Aquatics Approves Participation of Russian, Belarusian Athletes As Neutrals

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.

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17 days ago

Honestly I don’t hate this. It allows individual stars who really deserve to be on the world stage to participate but disallows any “team” events that would obviously be seen as representing Russia.

There is no perfect solution, but this seems about as reasonable a compromise as you could get if the only alternative is a complete blanket ban.

17 days ago

Sorry, this is crazy. What does it mean for a Russian athlete to meet the criteria, when this would normally mean imprisonment in their home country by implication? I wish we could follow the money on these decisions, but NBC need to throw their weight around, if they are not indeed the cause of all this.

Memma Eckeon
17 days ago

Why 1 per event?

Brit swim fan
17 days ago

So by allowing this, it will mean Ukrainian athletes will not be able to compete at world aquatics events as their policy it to boycott events that allow Russian and Belarusian athletes?

This seems like a reactionary plan that has quickly been arranged as the original plan to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to qualify for the next Olympics was via the Asian Games which was only a few days ago stopped. I think the close timings here of the two announcements is not a coincidence.

Do you think LEN will now also have to follow World Aquatics’s lead, or is this unlikely?

17 days ago

The war is over?

Fukuoka Gold
Reply to  Paul
17 days ago


You Must Trust the Science — or Else!
18 days ago

Seems consistent with what’s happening in professional tennis. For example, Russians such as Medvedev and Kasatkina are currently playing in the US Open in New York now.

Not a perfect solution by WA, but seems fairer than some of harsher ones I’ve seen suggested.

18 days ago

I think its a possible path for Russians based in the West like Minakov. But I don’t think anyone based in Russia can meet these criteria.

Reply to  anty75
17 days ago

Sport is a government propaganda machine in russia. Any medals won by their athletes will be quickly broadcast to their entire population in a “see everything is fine” narrative. This is what putin uses to convince his people that there is no price to pay for a war of aggression.
And President Husain Al Musallam needs to have someone explain to him what the word “fair” means. There is nothing “fair” about russian bombs and rockets killing Ukrainian athletes and destroying training facilities while russian athletes train with full comfort in government-funded training facilities.

18 days ago


About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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