by Alexandra Eleferenko
In recent days, the discussion about the possible return of Russian athletes to the Olympic Games is gaining momentum. For me, as a Russian citizen, their return would be an amazing development. After all, the participation and victories of Russian athletes brings me great happiness. However, the opinion of the international sports community on this matter is divided. On one hand, President of the IOC, Thomas Bach, the Organization of the European Olympic Committees, the German Olympic Sports Confederation, and even French President Emmanuel Macron support the return of Russian sportsmen to Olympic competitions. Banning people on the basis of their nationality goes against the Olympic Charter and contradicts the unifying mission of the games. On the other hand, countries like Poland, Sweden, Lithuania, Denmark and organizations such as the National Olympic Committee of Norway argue that Russian and Belorussian sportsmen should not be allowed to be part of international sport. They argue that it is not the right time to admit them back and there are no legitimate circumstances for their readmittance.
I can understand that in February 2022 Thomas Bach had a difficult choice. The choice was to exclude Russian sportsmen from all competitions or to defend their right to stay. Bach decided to ban Russian athletes. He later explained that the ban is a protective measure. I can understand this point. Indeed, the chances of provocations against the Russians rose significantly after well-known events. Potential violence against athletes, of course, would damage the reputation of the IOC. However, I wonder: why should athletes bear the consequences of political decisions they had no say in? Did they vote in favor of a military outbreak in Ukraine? If military conflict lasts for years, should the athletes have to wait all that time to continue their international careers?
I would like to see Russian sportsmen compete in the next Summer Olympic Games, either under the Russian flag or a neutral organization. Participation in a neutral status is not something new for the Russians and does not decrease the motivation to win. In 2021, Russian athletes participated in the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo as neutral competitors under the flag of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). With those athletes, ROC placed 5th in the medal standings, winning 20 gold medals, 28 silver, and 23 bronze medals. Russian sportsmen proved once again that they are among the best, even when their flag and anthem were taken away from them. In the award ceremonies, I felt endless joy and pride watching our athletes accept their medals while the ROC anthem composed by Piotr Tchaikovsky played in the background. Tears of happiness were in my eyes.
Participation in the Olympic Games or any other international competition is a dream for every athlete, regardless of nationality. Therefore, athletes represent themselves as professionals above all. Representation of the country becomes secondary. Sports should unite people and contribute to the reconciliation of conflicting sides, although I know it is not always that easy. Athletes just want to do their job. But whether to allow athletes to compete regardless of their country’s political actions, let Thomas Bach decide.