Russia’s Olympic Hopes Dwindle as Athletes Boycott Paris Games Over Restrictions

The number of Russian athletes set to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympics later this month has plummeted to just over a dozen, a consequence of numerous sports federations refusing to participate under what they deem humiliating restrictions. Athletes from Russia and Belarus, Moscow’s close ally in the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, are barred from competing under their national flags, anthems, and emblems. As of July 10, the Olympics website shows only 16 Russian athletes are scheduled to participate in the Games, which run from July 26 to August 11.

Russia has historically been a prominent sporting force at the Olympics, taking pride in its achievements. At the 2021 Tokyo Games, 335 Russian athletes competed, winning 71 medals, including 20 gold. To ensure athletes do not support Russia’s war effort and have no military ties, a rigorous vetting process was implemented for both Russian and Belarusian athletes. While 36 Russians passed the vetting, 20 subsequently declined to compete, according to the IOC. The Olympics kick off at a time of heightened tensions between Russia and the West, marking the most acute period in decades.

Moscow has condemned the vetting process and other restrictions as discriminatory, accusing the IOC of orchestrating a “conspiracy” to exclude its athletes. Several Russian sports officials, including those in judo, wrestling, and gymnastics, have stated their athletes will not participate in Paris due to the perceived unfair terms. “We do not accept the unsportsmanlike selection principle that guided the International Olympic Committee when forming the list of eligible athletes, the purpose of which is to undermine the principle of unity of our team,” Russia’s wrestling federation said in a statement on Saturday, highlighting the exclusion of top athletes, including two-time Olympic champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev, who failed the vetting process.

Wrestler Veronika Chumikova clarified that her decision to decline the IOC’s invitation was personal, not driven by the federation. “The conditions that were prescribed there – without the flag, without the anthem – were somehow unpatriotic,” Chumikova told Reuters in a WhatsApp message. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated on Wednesday that each athlete could individually decide whether to compete. “As for those who did not have the opportunity to go (to Paris), each federation has its own conditions, its own collective decisions, and this should be treated with respect,” Peskov told a news briefing.

Russia’s absence leaves a power vacuum in sports where it traditionally dominates, such as wrestling, gymnastics, and rhythmic gymnastics. Tokyo tennis doubles gold medalist Andrey Rublev and cyclist Aleksandr Vlasov, who won Switzerland’s Tour de Romandie and Spain’s Tour of Valencia in 2022, are among the 20 who declined to compete. The Olympic website only lists one Russian wrestler competing in Paris, after nine other squad members refused. However, a spokesperson for Russia’s wrestling federation revealed that the athlete, 23-year-old Shamil Mamedov, has yet to confirm his participation. “Shamil Mamedov has not made a final decision yet. There is no pressure on the athlete, athletes have the right to make all decisions independently,” the spokesperson said. Mamedov, who earned bronze at the 2023 World Championships, did not respond to a Reuters interview request. The International Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on Mamedov’s potential participation in Paris.

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