Thomas Bach calls to the summit. The President of the International Olympic Committee will have 32 participants connected this Friday for the “Olympic Summit”. It is an event that is not mentioned anywhere in the Olympic Charter, but became an institution under Bach. Since taking office in 2013, he has called for the Olympic Summit once a year, usually at the end of the year.
One person was never missing from this annual report: the President of Russia’s National Olympic Committee. No matter what rules Russia broke, whether those of sport with its comprehensive and comprehensively veiled doping program or those of international law and martial law: There was and is room in this round for the nominally most important man in Russian sport. Sergei Pozdnyakov, once a fencer like Bach and President of the Russian NOK since 2018, will also be involved in Russian killings this year.
This year it will be mainly about his athletes. At a press conference on Wednesday, Bach left no doubt that Russian and Belarusian athletes should again be allowed to compete in international competitions. How and when must be discussed on Friday and in the following “consultation”, as Bach said. There isn’t a schedule. But the list of advocates that Bach cited spoke volumes. He quoted Emmanuel Macron as President of the French Republic hosting the 2024 Summer Games in Paris. Macron recently said at the G20 summit in Indonesia that sport should not be politicized and that the games in Paris are intended for everyone, including athletes from warring states.
Bach was also at the G20 summit and has been working on the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes for months. They, according to IOC logic, will not be punished for aggressive warfare, even though many sport soldiers are paid from the same budget as the soldiers responsible for war crimes in Bucha, Kherson, Izyum and elsewhere in Ukraine. Excluded, Bach reminded, are Russian and Belarusian athletes to protect them from hostilities and political reprisals.
This “great dilemma” that Bach keeps talking about must now be solved. His route: The sanctions imposed by the IOC on the belligerent states for “violating the Olympic ceasefire” with the raid immediately after the end of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February remain in place.
That means: no international competitions in Russia and Belarus, no anthems, no flags. Vladimir Putin will not get his Olympic medal back. But Russian athletes must be given the opportunity to live out the “reconciling nature of sport”. Even while Russia is reducing Ukraine to rubble. Bach formulates his position independently of the course of the war.
The problem: It is extremely difficult to perceive Russian athletes, especially sports soldiers, as non-political actors. The Olympics are commonly perceived as a sporting showdown between nation states. Bach himself provided the evidence on Wednesday. He also quoted Csaba Kőrösi. The Hungarian diplomat, once educated at the State Institute for International Relations in Moscow, said as President of the United Nations General Assembly at the “Sport for Peace and Development Plenary Session” on December 1: “It is far more promising for the world if nations compete on the athletic fields than on the battlefields. The former makes us nobler and stronger, the latter leaves death and destruction in its wake.” On Wednesday, Bach evaded the obvious question of whether the participation of Russian athletes in the Olympics does not mean that the Russian nation is participating.
In Berlin, people obviously don’t want to go along with the differentiation. When asked by the FAZ, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD), who is responsible for sport, said: “Putin is waging his criminal war of aggression against the Ukrainian civilian population with undiminished brutality. Sport should remain consistent in its condemnation of this inhuman war. The Olympic idea stands for international understanding. Against this background, it is clear to us that this is not the time to invite Putin’s Russia to major international sporting events. All international sports federations remain responsible for positioning themselves clearly. The exclusion of Russia from major international sporting events must remain.”
A participant in Bach’s summit on Friday was asked last week how Russian track and field athletes could return to international competitions. Sebastian Coe, President of World Athletics, replied: “It’s pretty simple. Get out of Ukraine.”