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UN experts commend IOC for considering admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes as neutral contestants

01 February 2023

GENEVA (1 February 2023) – UN experts* today commended the International Olympic Committee for considering allowing individual athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part in international sports competitions as neutral athletes.

“We urge the IOC to adopt a decision in that direction, and to go further, ensuring the non-discrimination of any athlete on the basis of their nationality”.

On 25 January and following discussions with two Special Rapporteurs, the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee issued a statement referring to the need to respect the rights of all athletes to be treated without any discrimination, in accordance with the Olympic Charter.

A few days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the IOC had recommended the ban of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials such as judges from international competitions. The experts said the recent statement appeared to be a reversal of that policy.

“The IOC recommendation raised serious issues of direct discrimination, because athletes should not be discriminated against on the basis on their nationality,” the UN experts said.

“We understand the desire to support Ukrainian athletes and the Ukrainian Olympic community, who suffer terribly from the war, together with all other Ukrainians,” the experts said. “But the Olympic Committee and more widely the Olympic community have also the compelling obligation to abide by the Olympic Charter, and more widely international human rights norms prohibiting discrimination,” they said.

“When States so flagrantly ignore human rights, we have a greater obligation to stand in support of our common values,” the experts said.

They said that while understanding that all precautions must be taken to prevent sports competitions being instrumentalised, no athlete should be required to take sides in the conflict.

Referring to the IOC condition that only Russian and Belarussian athletes who have not actively supported the war in Ukraine would be permitted to compete in a neutral capacity, the experts urged the IOC to take more steps to align its recommendations with international human rights standards on non-discrimination.

“This condition opens the door to pressure and interpretation. The same rules must apply to all athletes, whatever their nationality. This includes the rule that any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited,” they said.

The UN experts sent a communication to the International Olympic Committee on 14 September 2022, who responded on 11 November 2022, and remain in contact with its representatives.ENDS

*The experts: Ms. Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights;Ms. Ashwini K.P., Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Johanne Bouchard ([email protected]) or Mylène Bidault ([email protected])

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.


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