World Aquatics won’t make a decision on the potential return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international competition until “later in the year,” President Husain Al-Musallam said during the organization’s Congress last week.
World Aquatics established a task force to explore the possibility of Russian and Belarusian athletes returning to competition in April, which came one month after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended that International Federations start reintroducing Russian and Belarusians as individual neutral athletes as long as they don’t support the war in Ukraine and aren’t affiliated with the military.
World Aquatics has banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in its competitions dating back to March 2022.
Al-Musallam said last week that the task force continues to analyze the potential of a return to competition, and noted that the group was seeking views of athletes competing at the World Championships in Fukuoka.
“Leadership often involves making difficult decisions,” Al-Musallam said. “The issue that we have with Russia and Belarus is a challenging one. I always do my best to listen and when I listen I hear different views.
“World Aquatics has had a clear position since the start of the war. We have not invited athletes from Russia and Belarus to our competitions.”
Maureen Croes, the President of PanAm Aquatics, was appointed as the chair of the task force implemented by World Aquatics earlier this year.
“Maureen and her team have been doing excellent work, and I thank them very much for that,” Al-Musallam said.
“They have been speaking to all our stakeholders and groups here in Fukuoka. They are running a survey asking athletes for their views. Many of you have already given your opinion and suggestion to Maureen. If you have not spoken to the task force, I recommend that you do. It is important that they hear from as many people as possible.
“Later in the year, the task force will reach its conclusion, and then, of course, we will communicate to you all.”
On June 29, the European Aquatics (LEN) Bureau decided it would maintain the position its been holding on Russian and Belarusian athletes, meaning they will continue to be ineligible to compete.
If Russian and Belarusian swimmers are barred from World Aquatics competition until the end of 2023, they’ll notably miss the 2023 World Junior Championships in September and the three-stop World Aquatics Swimming World Cup in October.
In terms of potential Olympic qualification, if Russian and Belarusian athletes are deemed eligible for Paris, the 2024 World Championships in Doha could serve as the best qualifying opportunity. That would require the ban to be lifted prior to the beginning of the 2024 Worlds, which kick off on February 2.