Russian Athlete List Shrinks as Sports Leaders Reject IOC Conditions

Russian Athlete List Shrinks as Sports Leaders Reject IOC Conditions

LONDON — The list of Russian athletes heading to the Paris Olympics later this month has shrunk to just over a dozen, with several sports federation leaders saying their teams would not participate because of what they see as humiliating restrictions.

Athletes from Russia and Belarus, Moscow’s closest ally in the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, are barred from the Paris Games unless they compete as neutrals without their flags, anthems and emblems.

According to the Olympic website, only 16 Russian athletes are scheduled to compete at the Paris Games, which will take place from July 26 to August 11.

Russia is proud of its track record as a major sporting power at the Olympic Games. At the last Summer Games in Tokyo in 2021, 335 Russian athletes competed and won 71 medals, including 20 gold.

Russian and Belarusian athletes have been forced to undergo an additional verification process to ensure they do not support Russia’s war and have no ties to its military.

While 36 Russians were given the green light, 20 of them subsequently declined the invitation, according to the IOC.

The Olympics open as tensions between Russia and the West are at their highest in decades. Moscow has denounced the selection process and other restrictions as discriminatory, accusing the IOC of engaging in a “conspiracy” to exclude its athletes.

Several Russian sports officials, including those from judo, wrestling and gymnastics, have said their athletes will not go to Paris because of what they see as unfair conditions.

“We do not accept the unsportsmanlike selection principle that guided the International Olympic Committee when establishing the list of eligible athletes, the aim of which is to undermine the principle of unity of our team,” the Russian wrestling federation said in a statement on Saturday, citing the exclusion of several high-profile athletes, including two-time Olympic champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev, who failed the selection process.

“NON-PATRIOTIC” CONDITIONS

Wrestler Veronika Chumikova said the decision to decline the IOC invitation was hers, not the federation’s.

“The conditions that were prescribed there – no flag, no anthem – were somehow unpatriotic,” Chumikova told Reuters in a WhatsApp message.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that each athlete could decide individually whether to compete.

“As for those who did not have the opportunity to go (to Paris), each federation has its own conditions, its own collective decisions, and this must be treated with respect,” Peskov said at a press briefing.

Russia’s absence has left a power vacuum in sports where it has traditionally dominated, such as wrestling, gymnastics and rhythmic gymnastics.

Tokyo tennis doubles gold medallist Andrey Rublev and cyclist Aleksandr Vlasov, winner of the Tour de Romandie in Switzerland and the Tour de Valencia in Spain in 2022, are among the 20 who have refused to compete.

The Olympic website lists only one Russian wrestler among the competitors in Paris, after nine other team members declined.

But a spokesman for the Russian wrestling federation said the athlete, Shamil Mamedov, 23, had not yet confirmed his participation.

“Shamil Mamedov has not yet made a final decision. There is no pressure on the athlete, athletes have the right to make all decisions independently,” the spokesman said.

Mamedov, who won bronze at the 2023 world championships, did not respond to a Reuters request for an interview.

The International Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on whether Mamedov would travel to Paris.