March 16 (Reuters) – The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) continued to walk a tightrope by reaffirming its support for Ukraine in its war with Russia on Thursday and leaving the door open for athletes to Russians and Belarusians compete in the Paris Olympics as neutrals. .
Chairing his first meeting as USOPC Chairman and President, Gene Sykes began by confronting the issue head-on. He said the body supports Ukraine but would listen and consider a process that would allow “truly neutral” athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate in next year’s Summer Games.
“The only issue I want to address directly is the issue of Russian athletes in international sports and potentially at the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Sykes said.
“Although the conversation has changed over time, our position has not. Above all, we stand in solidarity with the people and athletes of Ukraine.”
Ukraine led a call to ban all athletes from Russia and Belarus, which was used as a staging ground for what Russia calls a special operation, after the IOC said in January it was open to listing them as neutrals. The IOC also established a path for neutrals to qualify for the Paris Games.
The USOPC’s main concern is how the IOC will determine the criteria for a neutral athlete and until then it wants the sanctions to stand.
“We encourage the IOC to continue exploring the process that would preserve existing sanctions, ensuring that only truly neutral athletes who are clean are welcome to compete,” Sykes said.
“Only if these conditions of neutrality and fair and fair competition can be met, we believe that the spirit of the Olympic Games can prevail.
“What will neutrality really mean, what will be the conditions for neutrality?”
Sykes said the feedback the USOPC has been getting from athletes, sports and others is that there is a desire to have the best athletes in every event competing in Paris.
But he again stressed that any Russian and Belarusian participation would come with strings attached.
“We have listened and continue to gather feedback from athletes, sports and other United States constituents,” Sykes said.
“Many have told us that it is their wish to compete against the best athletes in the world, but only if that can happen in a way that ensures safe and fair play.
“There is very real concern and even skepticism about whether that condition can be met.”
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Edited by Pritha Sarkar
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