Sports

Paris 2024: Understanding the Role of an Individual Neutral Athlete at the Olympic Games

Russian athletes have competed under various names throughout the 128-year history of the Olympics, and at Paris 2024, they will be known by another new designation.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, supported by Belarus, in February 2022, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions. However, in January 2023, the IOC announced these athletes could compete as neutrals, similar to how they participate in ATP, WTA, and Grand Slam events without national identification.

In October 2023, the IOC suspended the Russian Olympic Committee after it absorbed Ukrainian regional sports organizations in Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia. This led to debates about whether Russian and Belarusian athletes should compete in the Olympics, with Ukrainian athletes expressing concerns. Nevertheless, the IOC ruled it unfair to ban athletes based solely on their nationality, allowing some to compete under strict conditions.

An Individual Neutral Athlete (AIN) refers to Russian or Belarusian athletes competing at Paris 2024. These athletes, identified as AINs (Athl├Ętes Individuels Neutres in French), must meet specific eligibility criteria. No national references will be made, and no flags, anthems, or colors of Russia or Belarus will be displayed. The AINs’ competition gear and anthem remain undecided, and they will not appear in the medal table of nations. They will also be excluded from the parade of delegations at the Opening Ceremony, though they will experience the event in some capacity.

In December 2023, the IOC’s Executive Board outlined that Russian and Belarusian athletes could only compete in individual events, not team ones. Those supporting the war or linked to the Russian or Belarusian military or security agencies are ineligible. A new Individual Neutral Athlete Eligibility Review Panel, including NBA champion Pau Gasol, will assess the eligibility of these athletes. International federations must submit their qualified athletes for review.

Previously, Russian athletes competed under the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics due to state-sponsored doping sanctions. However, with the ROC’s recent suspension, this option is no longer viable for Paris 2024.

As of March 28, 12 AINs with Russian passports and seven with Belarusian passports have qualified for Paris 2024, but the final number will be confirmed after the selection process. In comparison, Russia sent 330 athletes to Tokyo in 2021, while Belarus sent 104.

Russia’s acceptance of the IOC’s conditions remains uncertain, and the country plans to host its own “Friendship Games” later in the year, which the IOC has condemned. The identities of the AINs are not yet revealed, but notable athletes like Russian tennis player Daniil Medvedev may participate as neutrals, expressing willingness to compete under these conditions.

Russia has previously competed under neutral banners, such as the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and as part of the “Unified Team” at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games after the Soviet Union’s dissolution.

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