Many Russian athletes were banned from international sports earlier this year because of their country's war in Ukraine, but those who don't support the war could potentially be accepted back. IOC president Thomas Bach talked about the possibility of Russians returning in a recent interview with Corriere della Sera, but he emphasized that it won't be as easy as just allowing them to compete.
Bach told the Italian newspaper that he has been discussing Russia for months with dozens of heads of state and prime ministers, and nobody knows when or how the war will end. He said taking a stance against Russia was the right decision, but it also started a dilemma regarding the athletes.
"The Russian athletes certainly did not start the war," Bach said. "Those who have distanced themselves from the regime should be able to compete under a neutral flag. Our goal is to get Russian passport athletes who do not support the war to compete again. But it is not easy."
Bach explained that some governments have independently decided to refuse visas to Russian athletes on their territories, and some don't allow their own athletes to compete against Russians as a form of protest. He said the problem could grow because sports could be used as a means of retaliation between countries that are in conflict with each other.
"The Iranians may not want the Americans to compete, the Palestinians reject the Israelis, and so on. It is a world full of conflicts, from all points of view and also in sports," Bach said. "There is always someone who fights against someone else, who doesn't want someone to participate or ask for sanctions. So sport is split and we are torn apart."
There doesn't seem to be a perfect decision that will make everybody happy. During the Winter Olympics in February, Ukrainian skeleton racer Vladyslav Heraskevych held a blue-and-yellow sign that read "No war in Ukraine" in front of TV cameras. Four months later, he told The Guardian that Russian athletes should be banned from all sports until the war is over.
"It is absolutely crazy that they play while we suffer," Heraskevych said.
Meanwhile, other athletes such as Russian tennis playerto exclude individuals who are considered independent workers under the law.
Bach said the Olympic movement has a mission to contribute to peace while also remaining politically neutral, and that organizing games is a good way to bring people together, especially during challenging times. The main challenge is to learn how to do it correctly.
"We must show people that the Games remain unifying because here, in our world, the rules are the same for everyone..." Bach said. "The Olympic Village must be a place of peace, regardless of religion, sexual orientation, gender differences or the language spoken."