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Israel's Olympic status not in question says IOC president Bach amid frustration with Russia

GENEVA (AP) — Israel faces no threat to its Olympic status ahead of the Paris Games despite the conflict in Gaza, IOC president Thomas Bach confirmed Wednesday.

Some of the scattered calls Israel has faced for sporting sanction since October have come from Russia, which is isolated in world sports because of its invasion of Ukraine.

Bach’s frustration with Russian government and sports officials was clear in a one-hour online call with invited international media ahead of the Paris Olympics that open July 26.

Asked Wednesday about Israel teams and athletes not taking part in Paris, the International Olympic Committee president said: “No, there is no question about this.”

The safety in France of the Israeli team — which had a record 90 athletes at the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021 — also was raised with Bach.

The Israel men’s soccer team could play all three group-stage games outside the capital in cities like Marseille and Lyon. The tournament draw will be made in Paris on March 20.

In Paris, Israeli cyclists and marathon runners are set to compete outside secured venues on the city’s streets.

“Since the heinous attack on the Israeli team (during the 1972 Munich Olympics), there were always special measures being taken with Israeli athletes,” said Bach, who represented West Germany and won gold in team fencing at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

“The authorities feel comfortable that the same will be true of course also for Paris, Marseille or wherever there will be Israeli representation,” he said.

This week, a document detailing attempts by lawyers acting for Russia at the Court of Arbitration for Sport to draw comparisons with the Israel-Palestinian conflict and other border disputes in a failed legal case against the IOC was published.

The Russian Olympic Committee appeal challenged its suspension by the IOC last October for a breach of the Olympic Charter by annexing sports bodies in illegally occupied regions of eastern Ukraine.

At the CAS hearing in January, the IOC’s lawyers dismissed the comparison with Russia and argued “there is no evidence that the Israel (Olympic body) has been recognizing Palestinian sporting organizations as its members.”

On Wednesday, Bach said the Russian legal argument also cited disputes in Kashmir and Nagorno-Karabakh to push the view the IOC was using double standards.

Asked later about hostile comments aimed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Bach said this was a “cynical interpretation” of the IOC’s position on letting only some Russian athletes compete in Paris if they pass vetting as neutral individuals but not in team sports.

“The Russian government apparently is ignoring the fact they have forced us (into) action,” the IOC leader said. “It is their invasion and in particular it is their annexation of parts of Ukraine.

“What is also remarkable is that this aggressivity is coming from the very same government that was behind the scandalous manipulation of the anti-doping system before and during and even after Sochi,” Bach said of the 2014 Winter Games in Russia. Sochi was his first Olympics as IOC president where he was publicly close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A Russian doping case — of figure skating star Kamila Valieva — also rocked the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, and the teenager was banned for four years by the CAS in January.

Bach lamented it was “really very, very heavy to take” seeing Valieva photographed with Putin at a sports event two weeks ago.

“Now, she was misused for political purposes on top of that,” Bach said, “by having to stand next to the president, Putin, at the opening ceremony of the so-called Future Games. In this way showing the disrespect for all the worldwide anti-doping rules.”

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AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games