Hints of Russians’ Return to International Sports Rekindle Debate Over Their Exclusion from Olympic Lists
Over the past two weeks, the International Olympic Committee has decided to exclude Russian athletes, who have competed in the Winter Games and other major international competitions, from being included in the Olympic Games in the summer of 2018. The announcement was made on Friday, March 30 at a meeting of the executive board.
Many Russian athletes have been included in Olympic lists since the first Olympics in the early 20th century, even though in the early years of the International Olympic Committee Russian athletes had to compete alongside others from other nations. A century of exclusion, however, has left Russian sports fans and practitioners wondering why the Olympic committee would exclude Russian athletes from the Olympics, when there are plenty of other possibilities. In addition, a number of Russian athletes have questioned the rationale behind the exclusion of these athletes.
The idea of Russian athletes being excluded from the Olympic Games to promote a nationalist narrative in the context of the ongoing conflict with the US-led coalition in eastern Syria has been used in the past to dismiss the possibility of Russian athletes in the Summer Games. At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, for example, Russia boycotted the competition for the first time since the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, where an Olympic boycott was imposed by the then-Soviet Union after the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. In response to the boycott, the IOC invited three Russian athletes to compete in the tournament in exchange for other athletes from the same nation. But in September of 2016, IOC president Thomas Bach stated that Russian athletes would not be allowed to compete in the Olympics.
However, in a press statement on the eve of the Olympic Games, the IOC made it clear that Russian athletes would be included in the 2018 games. “In line with its policy, the International Olympic Committee has decided that Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang in South Korea on 9 and 20 February,” an IOC statement said. “For the first time in a century, there will be no international athlete from any other nation competing at the same Games in the 2018 in Pyeongchang.”
The inclusion of Russian athletes in the Olympics and the rejection of the possibility of a Russian boycott is