Can Russians and Belarusians compete at the Paris Olympics? Individual Neutral Athletes explained

Russian athletes have competed under several different guises throughout the 128-year history of the Olympics, and they will be known by another new name at Paris 2024.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – supported by Belarus – in February 2022, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be prohibited from competing in international sporting events.

In January 2023, the IOC announced its intention to allow these athletes to compete as neutrals, in a similar way to how Russian and Belarusian tennis players are presented at ATP, WTA and Grand Slam events without any reference to their nationality.

The Russian Olympic Committee was then suspended entirely by the IOC in October 2023 when it absorbed Ukrainian regional sports organizations in Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia.

There has been much debate around whether Russian and Belarusian athletes should be permitted to take part in the Olympics, with Ukrainian athletes in particular voicing their concerns.

However, the IOC Executive Board ruled that it would be unfair to punish athletes based on their passports alone, thereby allowing some to compete in Paris, albeit under very strict conditions.

Russia's Igor Kobzar serves in the men's gold medal volleyball match between France and Russia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – there will be no Russian representation in team events this year. - Antonin Thuillier/AFP/Getty Images

Here’s everything you need to know about the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes at the 2024 Olympics.

‘No flag, anthem, colors’

An Individual Neutral Athlete is the name used to refer to athletes with either a Russian or Belarusian passport who will be competing at this year’s Games in July and August. These athletes are referred to by the abbreviation AIN, which comes from the French translation Athlètes Individuels Neutres.

These athletes will be permitted to compete if they meet eligibility requirements.

No reference to either country will be made at the Games through the athletes’ participation.

“The sanctions against those responsible for the war, the Russian and Belarusian states and governments, remain in place for the Olympic Games Paris 2024,” the IOC said in a statement.

“No flag, anthem, colors or any other identifications whatsoever of Russia or Belarus will be displayed at the Olympic Games Paris 2024 in any official venue or any official function,” the statement continues.

Competition gear for the AINs has not yet been revealed, so it is unclear whether it will bear the turquoise colors of the brand-new flag of the AINs, or that they will don basic sportswear. An anthem – without lyrics – has also been commissioned for use in medal ceremonies.

The final version of the AIN flag assigned by the IOC on March 19. - IOC
The final version of the AIN flag assigned by the IOC on March 19. - IOC

Though AINs are eligible to compete and win Olympic medals, they will not be displayed in the medal table of nations.

AINs will also be excluded from the parade of delegations at the Opening Ceremony on the basis that they are individual athletes rather than a team, though the IOC has said “an opportunity will be provided for them to experience the event.”

Individual Neutral Athlete Eligibility Review Panel

In December 2023, the Executive Board of the IOC decided that Russian and Belarusian athletes who qualified through the existing qualification systems of international federations would have to meet strict requirements if they are to be selected as an AIN.

There will be no Russian or Belarusian representation in team events, with participation limited to individual competition.

Per the IOC, athletes who actively support the war or who are contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies will not be eligible to be entered or to compete. The same stipulation applies to support personnel.

Like all other athletes, AINs will need to meet anti-doping requirements to be considered for selection.

The eligibility of these athletes will be determined by the newly established Individual Neutral Athlete Eligibility Review Panel.

Two-time NBA champion and six-time All-Star Pau Gasol is part of the panel, representing the IOC Ethics Commission.

The Spaniard will sit alongside IOC Vice-President and former artistic swimmer Nicole Hoevertsz, and former Olympic table tennis gold medalist Ryu Seung-min, who will be representing the Athletes’ Commission.

International sporting federations will need to submit their lists of qualified athletes to panel for review.

At the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo (postponed to 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic) and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Russian athletes competed under the name of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC)  as a result of the country’s state-sponsored doping program.

Athletes from the ROC enter the stadium in Beijing, China on February 2022. - Robert Michael/picture alliance/Getty Images
Athletes from the ROC enter the stadium in Beijing, China on February 2022. - Robert Michael/picture alliance/Getty Images

Athletes could compete under the ROC banner if they could prove that they were not connected to the scandal.

However, with the ROC bearing both the name and colors of Russia – as well as the subsequent suspension of the ROC in October – it was no longer a viable option for Russian athletes to compete under this name in Paris.

It is also important to note that the ROC was not a neutral body, rather a delegation of Russian athletes which technically didn’t compete on the behalf of Russia, but retained a right to represent the country in all but an official capacity.

Numbers of AINs at the Paris Olympics

The IOC stated that, as of March 28, 12 AINs with a Russian passport and seven AINs with a Belarusian passport have qualified for Paris 2024 but said that the final number of athletes who will actually compete at the Games would not be communicated until the selection process has been finalized.

“The maximum number, which is unlikely to be reached, would be 55 and 28 respectively,” the IOC told CNN.

In comparison, Russia sent 330 athletes to Tokyo in 2021 while Belarus sent 104.

The ROC's Mariya Lasitskene won the gold medal in the women's high jump at the Tokyo Olympics. - Kyodo News/Getty Images
The ROC's Mariya Lasitskene won the gold medal in the women's high jump at the Tokyo Olympics. - Kyodo News/Getty Images

There is also the matter of whether Moscow will actually accept the conditions laid out by the IOC.

Russia is planning to host its own “Friendship Games” later in the year, an event which has been condemned by the IOC.

The identity of the athletes is also yet to be revealed, but it is possible that Russian former world No. 1 tennis player Daniil Medvedev will be part of the field. The former US Open champion said that he would be happy to participate as a neutral.

“I decided for myself that whenever I can play the Olympics, I want to be there I want to represent what I can represent,” he told reporters last month. “If it’s not under the flag, I know who I am, I know why I play tennis and I played like this all my life.

Russia has competed under a neutral banner on two previous occasions.

The ROC was suspended in 2017 as a result of the doping scandal ahead of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea the following year, but selected Russian athletes who met pre-competition conditions were still given the opportunity to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” and were represented by the Olympic flag.

Russia and Belarus were also part of the “Unified Team” at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona after the dissolution of the Soviet Union the previous year.

The delegation was made up of former Soviet republics – aside from the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – which had elected to compete as one unit. The Unified Team also bore the Olympic flag but winners were honored under the flags of their own nations.

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