IOC chides 'deplorable' reaction to plan for Russian athletes

Criticism by European governments of the push to reintegrate Russian and Belarusian athletes into world sports before the 2024 Paris Games was called "deplorable" by the International Olympic Committee leader Thursday.

IOC president Thomas Bach also suggested those governments, which seemed to include his own home country Germany, had "double standards" for focusing on athletes from countries involved in just one of about 70 ongoing wars and armed conflicts in the world.

Bach detailed IOC advice Tuesday to individual Olympic sports bodies of conditions by which they could decide to approve individual Russian or Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes while continuing a ban from team sports.

The IOC said sports should exclude athletes who have military links, though Bach clarified Thursday this likely should not apply to those who did one year of mandatory service.

"We have taken note of some negative reactions by some European governments in particular," Bach said at a news conference after an IOC executive board meeting.

Germany sports minister Nancy Faeser said the IOC's shift from its position one year ago to exclude all athletes and teams from Russia and Belarus was "a slap in the face of Ukrainian athletes."

"Those who let the warmonger Russia use international competitions for its propaganda are damaging the Olympic idea of peace and international understanding," Faeser said, echoing comments from other Ukrainian allies, including Poland.

Andriy Yermak, the chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, also criticized the IOC guidance.

"Hundreds of Ukrainian athletes die defending their country from the aggressor," Yermak said in a statement. "However, the IOC prefers not to notice this. This is not fair. Injustice destroys the spirit of the Olympic movement in the same way that Russia destroys international law.

"The IOC must immediately put an end to the blood sport and the aggressor state must be ostracised. Any attempt to save its face is a shameful mockery of the ideals of humanity which the international Olympic movement rests upon."

Bach said it was deplorable that some governments "do not want to respect the majority within the Olympic movement and of all the stakeholders nor the autonomy of sport which they are praising and requesting from other countries."

"It's deplorable that these governments don't address the question of double standards with which we have been confronted," Bach said. "We have not seen a single comment from them about their attitude about the participation of athletes whose countries are involved in the other 70 wars and armed conflicts in the world."

Criticism of sports officials was only hardening their stance against lawmakers, Bach suggested, and "strengthened the unity."

"It cannot be up to the governments to decide which athletes can participate in which competition," Bach said, adding, "This would be the end of world sport as we know it today."

The final decision on which Russians and Belarusians can compete in international events, including qualification for the Paris Olympics, is for the governing bodies of individual sports.

The International Table Tennis Federation said Thursday that Russian and Belarusian players could return to competition as early as May "under strict conditions of neutrality." The players will not be allowed to enter the world championships in late May because they have missed the qualification events, the ITTF said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.