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Olympics and Paralympics

EDITORIAL | Get Russia Out of Ukraine, Then Invite Its Athletes to the Olympics

Using the Asian Games as a backdoor despite the war, the IOC seems determined to find a pathway for Russia to have its athletes compete in the 2024 Olympics.

It should not be at all difficult for Japan’s sports world to make the decision it is being asked to make. Due to its ongoing invasion of Ukraine and its countless war crimes within that country, Russia should be expelled completely from the international stage. 

The call has gone out to the world of sports to unite on that one point. 

It is not the rights of Russian athletes that need saving now. First, consideration should go to the people of Ukraine. At this very moment their lives are endangered and their freedom is suppressed.

Calling on National and Regional Olympic Committees

The National Olympic Committee of Ukraine has sent letters to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Moreover, it has sent letters as well to national and regional Olympic committees. The letters ask them to continue to ban athletes from Russia and Belarus from taking part in international competition. 

The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) has confirmed that it has received such a letter. But has still not done anything about it. 

How are we to interpret that lack of action?

Russia
JOC Chairman Yasuhiro Yamashita holds a regular press conference in Tokyo on February 14. (© Kyodo)

The JOC's Weak Will

JOC President Yasuhiro Yamashita continues to evince little sense of crisis. During a regularly scheduled press conference on February 14, he said, "We need to carefully discuss a format [of participation] which would be acceptable to the nations of the world." 

Yamashita thereby signaled agreement with the policy of the IOC to devise a way for Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. 

Yamashita seems determined to avert his eyes from directly facing the horrors Ukraine is enduring. Since Yamashita is also a member of the IOC, his words and actions could be taken as the consensus of the Japanese sports community. That makes his blasé attitude a tremendous problem. 

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Asian Games' Backdoor to Paris

It has been reported that the presidents of the Russian gymnastics and wrestling federations have received invitations for their athletes to participate in the 2023 Asian Games. Those will be held in Hangzhou, China, from September 23 to October 8.

In turn, the IOC has welcomed the accommodative stance of the Olympic Council of Asia, organizers of the Asian Games. 

Russia
In September 2018, officials from Hangzhou, China, waved the flags of the Asian Games in Jakarta at the closing ceremony of the Asian Games (© Kyodo).

Moreover, the IOC seems determined to find a pathway for Russian athletes to take part in the Olympics. With Russian athletes currently barred from participating in qualifying events in Europe, this aggressive backdoor approach is clearly intended to pave the way for participation by Russian athletes in next year's Paris Olympics.

According to Yamashita's understanding, the IOC is now considering accepting performances on a non-ranked basis from competitions involving scoring and records. If wrestling, an event involving individual opponents, is included, then tournament results will clearly change depending upon the wins or losses of the Russian athletes. 

Yet, that is totally different from what the JOC is saying. That also serves as further proof of the incompetence of the JOC, even with respect to information gathering.

The Principle of Rule of Law

In the first place, Russia should not be allowed to use the Asian Games as an opportunity to stage a comeback. The IOC is obviously trying to keep a lid on protests from Ukraine, the party whose position is backed by established facts. Such an approach is nothing less than suicidal for sports that are supposed to be free, fair and equitable.

The mayor of Paris has expressed her opposition to Russia’s participation in next year’s Summer Games, as long as Russia continues to invade Ukraine. That makes the JOC approach of just crossing its fingers and waiting to see which way the wind blows even more deplorable.

If JOC President Yamashita is incapable of displaying the requisite courage, then others should act in his stead.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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