Russia and security 'the major issues for IOC and Paris Olympics'
Last year's invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war has prompted many observers to argue that Russia should be banned.
Paris: The decision on whether Russian athletes should compete in the Paris Olympics is the biggest headache facing organisers 500 days out from the opening ceremony, former senior IOC officials have told AFP.
Last year’s invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war has prompted many observers to argue that Russia should be banned.
Yet former International Olympic Committee (IOC) marketing chief Michael Payne said the last thing anyone wants is for the Games “to be overshadowed by politics.”
Payne, who in nearly two decades at the IOC was credited with negotiating sponsorship deals that vastly improved the body’s finances, believes IOC President Thomas Bach is conducting “a very effective consultation process” on the Russian athletes’ conundrum.
“Even the USOPC (United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee) say one needs to try and respect the IOC’s principal mission of bringing the world together,” Payne said in a phone interview.
However, he admits the IOC are caught “between a rock and a hard place” when it comes to taking a final decision on the Russians’ participation which he believes will come in “the second quarter of next year.”
“The IOC will be seriously challenged to balance its mission with the circumstances of summer 2024,” said the 64-year-old Irishman.
“The last thing you probably want is the Paris Games to be overshadowed by politics.
“Heaven forbid a repeat of Melbourne 1956 where the story became the water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union.”
Another former IOC marketing executive, Terrence Burns, who since leaving the organisation has played a key role in five successful Olympic bid city campaigns, says the issue of Russia “is the biggest challenge for Paris and indeed the Olympic movement.”
“It’s unprecedented, raw, and tragic and there’s no simple handbook or case study on how to handle it depending on one’s point of view,” he told AFP.
“The IOC haven’t made a decision yet and they have about a year for things to either get better, or worse.”
Burns understands “the perspective of those arguing for boycotts” but concurs with Payne that boycotting the Games — as the Ukrainians have urged should Russian athletes compete as neutrals — is not the answer.
“Maybe circumstances next year will make it untenable and clearly a discussion will have to take place with the head of the host government,” Payne said.
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