Inside The Games: Western Leaders Are Weighing Paris 2024 Boycott if Russia is Allowed

Inside The Games: Western Leaders Are Weighing Paris 2024 Boycott if Russia is Allowed

Updated: 16 days, 20 hours, 27 seconds ago

As the IOC swings wildly in its demeanor toward Russian participation in future Olympic Games, a number of Ukrainian allies are weighing an Olympic boycott if the Russians are allowed to participate, Inside The Games reports.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, they have become sporting pariahs around the world. Russian athletes have been barred from world competition in most (but not all) sports, and Russia has been considering a move to Asian sporting organizations in hopes of finding friendlier pastures.

But many Ukrainian allies in the west, including many NATO alliance members where Ukraine is a candidate nation, are “known to be considering a boycott of Paris 2024 rather than competing against an alien state,” David Miller said in his report.

“The plan to devise acceptable conditions for inclusion of Russian athletes is far too early, Ukraine’s allies indeed all of Europe, is wholly justified in their concern,” said Gerhard Heiberg of Norway, who led the Lillehammer Winter Games in 1994.

Heiberg spoke key words that tied sporting success directly back to the Vladimir Putin regime that instigated the war in Ukraine and subsequent violations of human rights.

“Putin is obsessed with sporting triumph that Russia’s exclusion from Paris might force his hand in concluding rampant terrorism.”

And so the rhetoric begins ramping up just as it did in 1979, where a number of nations, including the United States and Canada, boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow in protest over the Soviet Unions’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Some of the minor details of 2024 are different. One is that the Olympics will be hosted in one of the friendly “western nations,” France, and not on home turf of the Russians.

While the Olympic Games are still 18 months away, and a resolution in Ukraine is possible before then (either through the declining health of the Russian president or via a diplomatic or military resolution), Olympic qualifying in many sports has already begun. While pool swimming doesn’t require international competition for Olympic qualifying, many other sports (like diving, water polo, and artistic swimming) do.

That ramps up the pressure now, though the Russian president has said that maybe he will launch his own version of the Olympics, which in his view would be an even better event.

It’s a bluff with bluster, because even his allies, many of whom have cooled on the Russian action in Ukraine, still have much to gain from the global exposure of the Olympic Games. China and India don’t need a sporting event to spread their influence in Russia and India; those countries needs that exposure to spread influence in Africa, Europe, and the western hemisphere.

And even if there is an end to the fighting in Ukraine, the spectre and fallout from a war that has spent as much time striking non-military targets as it has military targets will be an international political theatre that could take years to unravel (including threatening Russia’s seat on the UN Security Council).

The lingering memory of 1980 will give most nations pause before weighing a boycott in 2024. The 1980 boycott is almost universally reviled in hindsight, though it is easier to ignore the human cost that drives sentiments of boycott after the fact.

The easiest solution would be to block Russia from participation altogether – perhaps a punishment that they are owed anyway because of the doping scandals that they are currently attempting to emerge from. A few nations – Belarus for certain – would join them in solidarity, but ultimately that would probably be a further isolation of Russia from the international community as boycotting the Olympics on Russia’s behalf would be a hard sell to home populations. An Olympics without Russia will still be an Olympics; an Olympics without NATO will be a disaster.

More likely, the posturing is a starting point to negotiate for Russia’s participation at some politically-acceptable level. That probably means the banishment of any Russian political figures at the event and the absence of the Russian flag and anthem, at a minimum – similar to the punishments in Tokyo in 2021.

Those sorts of negotiations become tricky, because Olympic organizations, and by instruction their host broadcasters, have not done particularly well at providing geopolitical context for nations’ participation in the Games, because the Olympics are in the business of nationalism and inspiration.

So if the agreement doesn’t include a number of NBC segments on the horror that beset Ukrainian athletes and their families during the invasion (which would be a justifiable presentation of sports in the context of geopolitics), then what else could make nations considering a boycott happy to share space with Russia?

And what happens when the first Ukrainian athlete is scheduled to compete against a Russian and refuses?

What will the IOC response be when an inevitable protest occurs?

These are all big questions for the IOC. If they had 18 months, the questions would probably become easier to answer as the varying political situations start to flesh themselves out. I do think most countries, in their private thoughts, would prefer a negotiated participation of Russia that somehow elevated their impact on Ukraine and mitigated their impact on the narrative of the sport.

With the pressure of qualifications, the IOC has to decide how they can buy themselves time to make the decisions – which includes figuring out how to deal with qualifying events.

I would suspect that in the short term, the Asian confederations, with implied approval from the IOC, will admit Russian sports that need to participate in early qualifying in order to kick the proverbial can down the road. Remember that bans from organizations like FINA have never explicitly extended to domestic or continental competitions. The IOC’s return-of-favor for that bargain might be to shift a few qualifying spots in the direction of Asia to account for the impact of Russian results (under a neutral flag, Russia was 5th on the Tokyo medals table with 20 golds among 71 podium finishes).

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