Politics in sports
OCA Athletes' Forum vows Russian and Belarusian athletes should return as neutrals
Members of the discussion:
The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) Athletes' Forum has deemed that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be permitted to return to international competitions as neutrals here.
The first day of Forum was attended by 88 participants from 43 countries, and the OCA has said they agreed "athletes should not be punished for the actions of their Governments" and should be able to compete internationally "without any form of discrimination" following discussions, which were held behind closed doors.
It ruled this should be under "clear conditions", including no national flags or anthems to ensure athletes compete as "strictly neutral", but there should be no Russian or Belarusian Government officials present.
Athletes should also comply with all anti-doping rules and regulations, and there should be "fairness" for Asian athletes in "any qualification pathway".
It is unclear at this stage whether this will pave the way for athletes from both countries to compete at the Asian Games, although the OCA statement references athletes accessing international competitions including its flagship multi-sport event without any form of discrimination,
A proposal for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in competitions in Asia with a possible qualification pathway for the Paris 2024 Olympics was already under consideration by the IOC as it controversially explores a pathway for their return.
OCA director general Husain Al-Musallam had referenced the potential inclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes in his opening remarks in Thailand's capital, and attempted to draw a contrast with the situation in Asia and the experience of his own country Kuwait, although the invasion by Iraq in 1990 did lead to it being barred by the OCA from that year's Asian Games in Beijing after several countries threatened a boycott.
OCA director general Husain Al-Musallam referenced the Iraqi invasion of his home country Kuwait in urging allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete ©Getty Images
It is the right of every individual in any society to practise sport without any discrimination,
the World Aquatics President said.
And this is why the Asian Games are successful, since 1913 with a lot of challenges.
We have World War II, we have the North Korea and South Korea war, India and Pakistan, Afghanistan, in the west we have a war in Palestine and in Syria — every part of Asia.
But the Asian Olympic Movement stayed together because we are not only talking about practising sport without discrimination, we are implementing this ourselves.
That's why at Busan 2002, North and South Korea marched together for the first time, and that is why in 2018 in the Jakarta Asian Games, North and South Korea participated in one team and they won a gold medal.
I come from a country Kuwait which was invaded by Iraq in 1990, but I never say to Iraqi athletes that I don't want them to participate in the Asian Games or any international sport competition.
I only say the regime who invaded my country should not appear in any form in sport.
He told delegates:
Today and tomorrow, your discussion is important to support the steps that the Olympic Council of Asia have taken to give peace a chance and give the innocent athletes from whichever country to take part in the upcoming Asian Games.
Al-Musallam stressed that if Russian and Belarusian athletes participate at the Asian Games as neutrals, this would be with "no flags" and "no medals".
Russian and Belarusian athletes have largely been frozen out of international sport since the start of the war in Ukraine ©Getty Images
The IOC's plans for a potential Russian and Belarusian return to competitions have sparked an angry reaction in Ukraine, including a threat of a Paris 2024 boycott, and a call from 30 nations for clarity on the definition of neutrality.
While sympathising with and expressing support for Ukrainian athletes, Al-Musallam defended his position to insidethegames.
I believe the athletes, it doesn't matter where they are born, their nationality or their passport, they have nothing to do with any conflicts, and they never asked to have a war,
They are innocent, and our duty is to help all the athletes.
He referenced the attendance of Oceanian athletes at OCA events, and argued "athletes should always have access to sport because this will push the respective Government for peace, which we need".
However, Al-Musallam insisted the OCA would "not take an individual decision without proper consultation and agreement, not only with the IOC, with everybody".
Critics of a possible return to international sport for Russian and Belarusian athletes have argued neutrality is not possible and have pointed to links between sport and both countries' Governments and military.
It remains unclear whether Russian and Belarusian athletes will compete at the delayed Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games, but Husain Al-Musallam said if they did it would be with "no medals" ©Hangzhou 2022
Practical difficulties have also been demonstrated through the cancellation of a Fencing World Cup in Tauberbischofsheim due to issues for nationals of both countries obtaining visas to enter Germany.
The International Fencing Federation voted last week to allow Russian and Belarusian individual fencers, teams and officials to return to its events.
The OCA Athletes' Forum declaration follows a similar stance adopted at an Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa equivalent event in Algiers last week.
OCA Athletes' Committee chair Mikako Kotani of Japan told insidethegames that "all the areas of Asia, the five zones all agreed on non-discrimination of sports", and said she was "very impressed how they expressed their feelings".
Finland's Emma Terho, who is attending the OCA Athletes' Forum, said to insidethegames the IOC Athletes' Commission which she chairs is "having the exchange with different athletes" and recognised "understandable views coming from their [the Ukrainian] side".
The Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games is scheduled for September 23 to October 8 this year having been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 15,000 athletes expected to take part event the presence of Russians and Belarusians.
The OCA Athletes' Forum is due to conclude tomorrow with discussions on the prevention of the manipulation of competition, athlete career development for sport and beyond, and the fight against doping.
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