Will Russian Athletes Ever Wear a “Russia” Jersey Again?

After enduring years of drug-related bans from world sporting events, it looks like Russia may be facing another ban, this time, for political reasons.  Russia was banned from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang for drug-related offenses.[1]  However, eligible Russian athletes competed as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” not as official members of the Russian Olympic team.[2] 

Then, in December of 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency banned Russia from international sporting events until the end of 2022.  This included the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics (2021) and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.[3]  At both events, Russian athletes competed as members of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), again without the Russian flag.[4] 

Now, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian athletes may be prohibited from sporting the official Russian Olympic team emblem and flag in the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics and Milano Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics. [5] 

In February of 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine.  Ukraine, a sovereign nation as recognized by the U.S. Department of State in 1991, continues to fight a war for its independence.[6]  On October 5, 2023, the ROC claimed regional sports organizations in occupied territories of Ukraine as its own.[7]

On October 12, 2023, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the ROC “until further notice.”[8]  The IOC said that the ROC violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine’s national Olympic committee by claiming several of its organizations.[9]  The IOC ruled that the ROC violated the Olympic Charter and revoked its official status for the 2024 and 2026 games.[10] 

Following the IOC ruling, the ROC filed a tribunal appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.[11]  If the IOC decision stands, Russia’s athletes will compete as neutral individuals in 2024 and 2026.[12]  

While Russia is against the ban, the IOC has received international support for its decision, including from the United Nations.[13] 

This is not the first time the IOC has banned nations from the Olympics for political reasons.  Kuwait was banned from officially sending athletes to the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics because of a national law that clashed with the Olympic Movement.[14]  Previously, the IOC banned Afghanistan from the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics because of the Taliban’s discrimination against women.[15]  South Africa was excluded in the 1970s and 1980s relating to the apartheid and several countries were excluded following World Wars I and II.[16]

The IOC’s precedent of banning countries for political reasons, combined with the current situation with Russia, raises questions about the Israel-Palestine conflict.  Much to Russia’s dismay, the IOC has been supportive of Israeli athletes competing in 2024.  The IOC identified the Russia-Ukraine conflict as unique, but Russian leaders have called the IOC biased.[17]  As the Israel-Palestine conflict evolves, so too will the IOC’s response. 

Image credit: ESPN

[1] https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/russian-athletes-competing-roc-olympics/story?id=79069924#:~:text=The%20Russians%20were%20banned%20from,Summer%20Olympic%20Games%20in%20Tokyo.

[2] Id.

[3] https://www.nbcolympics.com/news/what-does-roc-stand-and-why-did-russia-get-banned-olympics#:~:text=Technically%2C%20Russia%20is%20banned%20from,Committee%2C%20or%20ROC%20for%20short.

[4] https://www.nbcolympics.com/news/what-does-roc-stand-and-why-did-russia-get-banned-olympics#:~:text=Technically%2C%20Russia%20is%20banned%20from,Committee%2C%20or%20ROC%20for%20short.

[5] https://www.law360.com/sports-and-betting/articles/1763626/russian-olympic-group-appeals-suspension-funding-ban

[6] Id.

[7] https://www.politico.eu/article/russia-olympic-committee-banned-violating-olympic-charter-paris-2024/; https://www.reuters.com/sports/russian-olympic-committee-immediately-banned-ioc-2023-10-12/#:~:text=MUMBAI%2C%20Oct%2012%20(Reuters),the%20International%20Olympic%20Committee%20said.

[8] https://www.law360.com/sports-and-betting/articles/1763626/russian-olympic-group-appeals-suspension-funding-ban

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id; https://apnews.com/article/olympics-russia-ioc-suspension-appeal-paris-61e3acce62b84c25da1a4400acd404b8

[13] https://olympics.com/ioc/news/q-a-on-solidarity-with-ukraine-sanctions-against-russia-and-belarus-and-the-status-of-athletes-from-these-countries

[14] https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/russian-athletes-competing-roc-olympics/story?id=79069924#:~:text=The%20Russians%20were%20banned%20from,Summer%20Olympic%20Games%20in%20Tokyo.

[15] https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/story?id=100745&page=1; https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/russian-athletes-competing-roc-olympics/story?id=79069924#:~:text=The%20Russians%20were%20banned%20from,Summer%20Olympic%20Games%20in%20Tokyo.

[16] https://olympics.com/ioc/news/q-a-on-solidarity-with-ukraine-sanctions-against-russia-and-belarus-and-the-status-of-athletes-from-these-countries

[17] https://www.mprnews.org/story/2023/11/08/russia-says-international-olympic-committee-is-giving-israel-a-pass-on-gaza

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