LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND (AP) – Russia could return to some international sports events and Olympic qualifiers by competing as part of Asia rather than Europe.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach welcomed a “creative” plan on Friday to allow athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus to join competitions in Asia after more than nine months of isolation from most Olympic sports following the invasion of Ukraine.
The statement did not directly address whether Russia and Belarus can send teams to the 2024 Olympics in Paris, but a move from Europe to Asia offers a potential way for Russian athletes to compete in continental events which serve as qualifiers for the Games.
“Something which few believed in even recently could soon become reality,” Russian Olympic Committee President Stanislav Pozdnyakov wrote on the Telegram app.
He predicted Russian athletes could be back in Olympic qualifiers “in the near future”.
The IOC recommended on February 28 that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be excluded from competition, citing concerns over safety and the integrity of competitions.
Most Olympic sports followed its lead and imposed bans.
The Olympic Summit, a conference hosted by the IOC and chaired by Bach, agreed on Friday that the IOC will “lead the further exploration” of an initiative from the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) to allow Russia and Belarus to compete there, according to a statement.
Consultations are planned with sports federations, athletes and national sports bodies. Bach “thanked the OCA for its creative initiative”, the IOC’s statement said. Russia has territory across Europe and Asia but is traditionally considered part of Europe for the purposes of sports events.
“In the course of the debate, the acting president of the Olympic Council of Asia stated that, on the Asian continent, the reasons for the protective measures no longer exist,” the IOC statement said.
“The OCA offered to facilitate the participation of athletes from Russia and Belarus in competitions in Asia under its authority, while respecting the sanctions in place.”