02/03 14:12 CST Olympic echoes of boycott era as Ukraine vs IOC intensifies
Olympic echoes of boycott era as Ukraine vs IOC intensifies
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) --- A contest that could define the 2024 Paris
Olympics is playing out 18 months before medals are awarded. It's giving the
International Olympic Committee a political challenge with echoes of the 1980s.
Ukraine fired up its campaign on Friday to have Russia and military ally
Belarus excluded from the next Summer Games with talk in Kyiv of a boycott and
support from sympathetic governments in the Baltics and elsewhere in Europe.
The IOC responded in a statement that "it is regretful that politicians are
misusing athletes and sport as tools to achieve their political objectives."
Pushback has been fierce in the 10 days since the IOC set out its preferred
path for Russian and Belarusian athletes who do not actively support the war to
try to qualify for Paris as neutrals.
By citing human rights arguments --- that no athlete should face discrimination
just for the passport they hold --- the IOC has seemed ready to punish the
protesting parties rather than the aggressors in the war.
The IOC has pointed to its own rules and Olympic history to make its case.
It is the document of rules that "governs the organization, action and
operation of the Olympic Movement and sets forth the conditions for the
celebration of the Olympic Games."
It does say that each of 206 national Olympic committees (NOCs) is obliged to
participate in the Olympic Games by sending athletes.
What it does not say is any kind of clear framework for acting against Russia
and Belarus in the current situation.
"There is nothing in the Olympic Charter saying if a government starts a war
that is opposed by the U.N. then the NOC has to be suspended," said Sylvia
Schenk, a lawyer and sports governance expert from Germany who advises the IOC
on human rights.
Any NOC can choose to boycott an Olympics on a point of honestly held principle
--- knowing that in Lausanne the act will not easily be forgotten or forgiven.
No team has boycotted the Olympics since North Korea snubbed the neighboring
South for the 1988 Seoul Summer Games.
That closed a different period in Olympic history after significant boycotts at
each Summer Games from 1976 through 1984.
A swath of African countries stayed away from Montreal in 1976 because New
Zealand would be there soon after its iconic rugby team toured South Africa.
The United States led the largest boycott in 1980. More than 60 teams refused
to go to Moscow after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. IOC president
Thomas Bach was among the West Germany athletes who could not go, denying him
the chance to defend the team fencing title.
Payback four years later saw the Los Angeles Olympics snubbed by the Soviet
Union and Eastern European allies.
The boycott era almost fatally damaged the Olympic brand and is seared on the
memory of Bach who has presided over an era of continued commercial success.
Most famously, South Africa was banned by the IOC from competing at any
Olympics from 1964-88 because of its apartheid system of racial discrimination
Critics of the IOC's current stance on Russia point to the South African case.
The IOC's counter point is that South Africa was under U.N. sanctions and
Russia currently is not. Russia is a U.N. Security Council member and can veto
North Korea was excluded from the Beijing Winter Games held one year ago as
punishment for not sending a team to the Tokyo Summer Games in July 2021. North
Korea claimed it was protecting athletes from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bach said in September 2021 when issuing the ban that taking part in the
Olympics can "show to the world how it could look like if everybody would
respect the same rules, if everybody would live together peacefully without any
kind of discrimination."
Afghanistan could be banned from Paris next year for denying women and girls
the right to play sport. The Charter says "every individual must have the
possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination."
The IOC was urged by the World Anti-Doping Agency to issue a blanket ban on
Russia less than a month before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
A hectic lead-in to those Olympics saw WADA-appointed investigator Richard
McLaren detail the Russian state-backed doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Winter
After the IOC pledged to explore legal options, it instead asked governing
bodies of individual Olympic sports to decide within days how, and which,
Russian athletes could be eligible for Rio. A flurry of appeals went to the
Court of Arbitration for Sport.
A similar scenario of legal uncertainty could play out before Russians and
Belarusians compete in Paris, sports law academic Antoine Duval cautioned on
"It would be very political and very ad hoc, and with different types of
approaches to the issue," Duval told The Associated Press in a telephone
The IOC's suggested option of Russian and Belarusian athletes competing in
Paris as neutral athletes without their flag, anthem or national team name has
It's how individual Yugoslavians, but not teams, could compete as independent
athletes at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics during the civil war in the Balkans.
U.N. sanctions were in force then.
Kuwait competed as independent athletes under the Olympic flag in 2016 because
of a relatively trivial issue of a government-backed sports law that was
unacceptable to the IOC.
Fallout from the Russian doping scandal has meant teams at the past three
Olympics starting in 2018 competed under supposedly neutral names --- Olympic
Athlete from Russia, and ROC (for Russian Olympic Committee) --- without flag
Dressed in distinctively Russian colors of red, white and blue, however, it was
a compromise unsatisfactory to many. Any Russians competing in Paris will
likely be dressed in genuinely neutral colors.
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