19th March 2023 – (Kuwait) The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) has received support from its Athletes Forum for allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to qualify for the Paris Summer Games through events in the region. This move by the OCA is part of efforts to circumvent bans from European regional competitions due to pressure from 35 governments, including the United States, Britain and France, to exclude athletes from Russia and Belarus because of their countries’ invasion of Ukraine. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has indicated that it is open to including the athletes as neutrals and suggested Asia as a possible qualifying pathway.
The OCA has offered to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at the Asian Games in China later this year, and the Athletes Forum has agreed to endorse the principles behind this proposal. The forum agreed that athletes “should not be punished for the actions of their governments” and “should have access to international competitions (including the Asian Games) without any form of discrimination”. However, the forum also insisted on fairness to Asian athletes in any qualification pathway and endorsed conditions under which Russians and Belarusians could compete, including a ban on government officials from the two countries, a ban on flags or national symbols being displayed, and full compliance with doping rules.
The IOC is keen to prevent the ongoing conflict from tearing apart the Olympic movement, and the arguments of the OCA Athletes Forum reflected this position. Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Paris Olympics if Russians and Belarusians are allowed to compete, but no final decision has been made. The 35 “like-minded” governments expressed concerns about the athletes competing as neutrals, given that they were directly funded by their governments and often had close links to the military.
The Asian Games, which were delayed from last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will take place in Hangzhou from 23rd September to 8th October.