World Athletics said on Thursday that athletes from Russia and Belarus would remain prohibited from competition, including qualification for the Olympic Games in Paris next year, as part of sanctions for the war in Ukraine.
The move sets up a high-profile showdown between one of the largest sporting federations and the International Olympic Committee.
The sporting body, which administers competition rules and world championships for track and field, marathons and race walking, said athletes and officials from Russia and Belarus would be excluded from all such events “for the foreseeable future” and that a working group would be devised to determine conditions necessary for their potential re-inclusion at a later date.
The policy puts World Athletics at the forefront of a rift in the sporting world over the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in global events. It also puts it in conflict with remarks by IOC president Thomas Bach that advocated the neutral participation of athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports.
“The death and destruction we have seen in Ukraine over the past year, including the deaths of some 185 athletes, have only hardened my resolve on this matter”, said Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics.
The policy is the result of some bureaucratic manoeuvring, as World Athletics initially said it would exclude Russians and Belarusians in March 2022.
At the time, Russian athletes were still under a ban instituted in 2015 for the nation’s state-sponsored doping programme, a sanction that the World Athletics Council lifted on Thursday, paving the way for a reaffirmation of exclusion because of the Ukraine war.
Many sports are into the qualification period for next summer’s Paris Olympics, whereby athletes seek entry to the games based on international rankings, world championship results or other criteria set by their sporting federations.
The IOC, which administers the games but largely does not set qualification criteria for sports, has urged federations to allow for inclusion of “neutral” athletes, in part to forestall potential boycotts.
In a speech on Wednesday before a political forum in his home nation of Germany, Bach said: “If politics decides who can take part in a competition then sport and athletes become tools of politics. It is then impossible for sport to transfer its uniting powers.”
Some sporting bodies, including the International Fencing Federation, have voted in recent weeks to allow the resumption of competition by Russian and Belarusian athletes, sparking outcry from Ukrainian fencers and their allies.
Last month, nearly three dozen nations, including the UK, US, Germany and Canada, wrote a letter to the IOC stating that “Russia and Belarus have it in their own hands to pave the way for their athletes’ full return to the international sports community, namely by ending the war they started”.