After nearly 20 months of waging war in Ukraine, Russia has been suspended by the IOC for a land grab in sports administration.
The International Olympic Committee’s executive board imposed the suspension on the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) on Thursday for a breach of the Olympic Charter — a book of rules and principles for international sports bodies — by incorporating sports councils in four regions in eastern Ukraine.
The suspension does not immediately affect any Russians who are returning to compete in international sports as neutral athletes, including in some qualifying events for next year’s Paris Olympics.
Russian Olympic officials provoked the dispute last week by accepting the councils in Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia as its members.
“(This) unilateral decision,” the IOC said in a statement from Mumbai, India, “constitutes a breach of the Olympic Charter because it violates the territorial integrity of the NOC of Ukraine, as recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in accordance with the Olympic Charter.”
The IOC didn’t suspend the Russian Olympic body for a similar move in 2016, more than two years after the annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
Russian media reported in December 2016 that the sports councils of Crimea and Sevastopol were included as ROC members. International law still recognises the region as part of Ukraine.
The decision to suspend the ROC appears to highlight rising frustration from the IOC and its president, Thomas Bach, who can ultimately decide to impose a blanket ban on all Russian athletes from Paris.
“(The IOC) reserves the right to decide about the participation of individual neutral athletes with a Russian passport in the Olympic Games Paris 2024 and the Olympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026 at the appropriate time,” the IOC said.
The Russian Olympic Committee criticised the IOC for “another counterproductive decision with obvious political motivations.”
However, the IOC under Bach has often been seen as too sympathetic to Russia during a decade-long doping scandal by never excluding all the country’s athletes and teams from any Olympics.
The latest decision comes seven months after by the IOC board advised governing bodies of Olympic sports to find ways of including Russian athletes in qualifying events for the Paris Games.
Each Olympic sport was asked to evaluate if individual athletes had not actively supported the war and were not contracted to the military or state security agents.
This approach has led to apparently inconsistent results, such as wrestling approving Olympic gold medallists who appeared on stage at a pro-war rally in Moscow.
Russia remains excluded from international events in team sports.
The Russian Olympic Committee could challenge the IOC decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.