The International Olympic Committee has defended plans to include Russian and Belarusian athletes at the Paris 2024 Games
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) must not act as a "political referee," according to its president, Thomas Bach. The organization has faced a backlash for its plans to reinstate Russian and Belarusian athletes to international competition ahead of the Paris Games in 2024.
Speaking at the Ruhr Political Festival in Essen, Germany on Wednesday, Bach said that the IOC must stay out of political disputes to preserve its power as a unifying force on the international stage.
"If politics decides who can take part in a competition, then sport and athletes become tools of politics," Bach stated. "It is then impossible for sport to transfer its uniting power."
However, he added that the IOC must be "politically neutral but not apolitical."
The IOC imposed sporting sanctions against Russia and Belarus shortly after Moscow launched its military campaign in Ukraine last year. The measures were subsequently adopted by numerous other sporting federations across the globe, and severely restricted the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competitions.
Despite Bach stating earlier this year that he believes sanctions should continue against the governments of both Russia and Belarus, he has appeared open to allowing athletes from both countries back to Olympic competition under certain criteria, such as participating under a neutral flag and appearing in Asian-based qualification events ahead of the Paris Games next year.
Bach claimed on Wednesday that the current situation presents his organization with a "dilemma," noting that Ukraine has demanded "the total isolation of all Russians" from global sport. He further stated that the IOC has a responsibility towards "human rights and the Olympic Charter" - and not towards the "total isolation of people with a specific passport."
Elsewhere, Bach has faced resistance from the likes of the British government, amid reports earlier this month that it had petitioned major Olympics sponsors to pressure the IOC to maintain its hardline stance against Russia and Belarus.
Bach's latest comments came despite protests from "several dozen" people outside Essen's Philharmonic Music Hall, some of whom were Ukrainian refugees, according to Reuters. Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Paris Olympics if a complete ban on Russia and Belarus is not upheld.