Fact Check: Russian Athletes Were NOT Banned From Sports Events In Ethnic-Hate Campaign


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Fact Check: Russian Athletes Were NOT Banned From Sports Events In Ethnic-Hate Campaign Doping & War

Did international sports associations ban Russian athletes from their events as part of an ethnic-hate campaign, the likes of which have not been seen "since the Holocaust?" No, that's not true: Russians have been forbidden to compete in international sports events as punishment for a doping scandal and for their government's decision to invade Ukraine in 2022. The ban is not rooted in ethnic discrimination: Russians have been allowed to participate in world sports events under a neutral, non-national banner.

The claim appeared in a Hungarian-language video (archived here) on TikTok on August 20, 2023, under the caption "Is this ethnic discrimination?" (All translations by Lead Stories.) The speaker says:

Ethnic discrimination exists today, the kind of ethnic discrimination that the western world has not witnessed since the Holocaust... They're banning Russian athletes from sports events based on their origin. They're banning Russian artists from cultural events based on their origin. Not within the Russian state, but against Russians living in the far-flung areas of the world outside it, they are carrying out a hate campaign...

This is what the post looked like on TikTok at the time of writing:

TikTok screenshot

(Source: TikTok screenshot taken on Thu Aug 24 04:02:41 2023 UTC)

Many Russian athletes have indeed been excluded from international sports events - but not because of any anti-Russian discrimination campaign. Moreover, many Russian sportsmen and women were still able to compete under neutral status.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (World Athletics, as of 2019) formally banished Russia from global athletics events on November 26, 2015, after establishing that its athletes who competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, had participated in a state-run doping program. In December 2019, the World Doping Agency followed suit, meaning Russia would be unable to field national teams at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

However, the IAAF allowed Russians to apply for "neutral athlete" status if they could prove they had not taken performance-enhancing drugs. In November 2019, the association said it had declared 135 Russians eligible to compete in events that year.

Russians also participated in the Tokyo Olympics, albeit not under the Russian flag. As The New York Times wrote about the Games' opening ceremony on July 26, 2021:

A significant Russian delegation marched in the parade of nations... under the banner of R.O.C., the acronym for the Russian Olympic Committee. That is the official label under which more than 330 Russian athletes are competing here, a bit of disciplinary sleight of hand required by punishments imposed after the country's recent doping scandals.

The World Athletics Council lifted Russia's doping suspension in March 2023. But by that time, the organization had already imposed a separate ban on Russian athletes, including those who had been granted "neutral" status, sanctioning Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Soccer's international governing body, FIFA, also suspended all Russian teams from its competitions indefinitely due to its aggression against Ukraine.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), by contrast, has been pushing for sports associations to allow athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus to compete in international events. The IOC issued a list of recommendations on March 28, 2023, including:

Individual Neutral Athletes... may return to international sports competitions only in an individual and neutral capacity, and not in any way as a representative of the Russian Federation or the Republic of Belarus, or any other organisation in their country, including their National Olympic Committee (NOC) or National Federation (NF).

Teams of athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport cannot be considered.

Only those Individual Neutral Athletes... who have not acted against the peace mission of the Olympic Movement by actively supporting the war in Ukraine may be invited to participate in international sports competitions.


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