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Will the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have a role to play or a voice in international politics, like war? Politics and rhetoric are inescapable. While the Games are not meant to be political, many nations and leaders have used the event just for that, starting with boycotts.

The mayor of Paris speaks

Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, France said that she does not want a Russian delegation at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games while the country wages war in Ukraine.

“As long as Russia continues to wage war on Ukraine, I don’t want there to be a Russian delegation at the Paris 2024 Games.

“I would find that indecent.

“It is not possible to parade as if nothing had happened, to have a delegation come to Paris, while the bombs continue to rain down on Ukraine,” she told the publication France info.

Other European nations protest

Meanwhile the Minister of Youth and Sports of Ukraine, Vadym Guttsait, is considering a boycott of Paris 2024 if Russia and Belarus are to be present.

Other European leaders have stepped up to issue warnings about their participation. For example, Minister of Sports of Austria, Werner Kogler, agreed that he is not in favour of Russia and Belarus’s participation in any way. The Olympic committees from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden wrote to the IOC to indicate they also oppose Russian and Belarusian participation in Paris.

In addition to the war, Russia harbours a culture of cheating. Their systematic doping came to a head at the Sochi Winter Games, however, there is evidence of a long tradition of drug cheating. World Athletics has banned Russia since 2015. The illegal war only adds to its status as persona non grata on the global sporting stage.

It was announced earlier this week that six more Russians have been approved for neutral status. The IOC should apply the so-called ban fully and completely.

In Tokyo…

There was a delegation of 335 Russians at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games across 30 sports. Athletes won a total of 71 medals including 20 gold, 28 silver and 23 bronze. Gold medallists were not permitted to stand for the Russian national anthem titled Patrioticheskaya Pesnya (The Patriotic Song). The Russian flag Flag Rossii, or the State Flag of the Russian Federation. Athletes competed under the Russian Olympic Committee flag and the team was named ROC or Russian Olympic Committee. At the end of the day, Russia’s presence was full on in Tokyo.

In December 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned Russia from all international sport for four years. After it was found out that data (on the Moscow laboratory’s mainframe computer) provided by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency had been manipulated by Russian authorities. WADA allowed Russian athletes to compete neutrally, but did not determine a team name and stated that the title “Olympic Athletes from Russia” from the 2018 Winter Olympics could not be used due to including the name “Russia.” Tokenism.

Tigray War of Ethiopia

As Russia’s war in Ukraine continues, elsewhere war rages on unabated. Will the IOC take a stand or assist the victims in Ethiopia, for example?

The Ethiopian region of Tigray is at the centre of a civil conflict involving ethno-regional militias, the federal government, and the Eritrean military that has attracted the concern of humanitarian groups and external actors since Nov., 2020, but not the IOC.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party that represents Tigray, has a history of dominating leadership coalitions and politics at the national level despite being the ethnic minority. The TPLF continued to govern Ethiopia after the passing of Tigrayan soldier-politician Meles Zenawi who governed Ethiopia as an autocrat. Tigrayan control of the national government came to an end in 2018, with the ascension of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.

On Nov., 4, 2020, Ahmed Ali ordered Ethiopian National Defense Force troops to begin the military operation “Mekelle Offensive” in Tigray. The offensive increased in severity over the next few months as Tigrayan troops intensified their response. The conflict escalated into civil war known as the Tigray War.

At one point Ethiopian distance runners had difficulty training appropriately for competition including Letesenbet Gidey, who is largely considered one of this generation’s best distance runners. She holds four world records or world bests in distances from 5000m to the half-marathon. The accumaltive fatalies are estimates at no less that 400,000 people in Ethiopia, double that of Ukraine.

It could be argued that the general consensus around the world is that Russia should be fully and completely banned from international sport. Therefore, at some point, the IOC should make a decision on how certain Ethiopians can compete under a different flag, while others should be banned. But that would be playing politics and we can’t have that.

Meanwhile, Kenya continues to have a major and unprecedented doping issue that rages on unabated, despite the optics of there apparently being an appetite to stamp it out.