The International Olympic Committee urged sports federations and event organizers to not invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international competitions, its executive board said Monday, in a decisive recommendation that comes as the 2022 Paralympic Games are set to begin.
The IOC's rebuke of Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, one of the clearest denunciations by a sporting entity since the conflict began, also withdrew the Olympic Order -- the highest award it can give, recognizing efforts worthy of merit in the cause of sport -- from "all persons who currently have an important function in the government of the Russian Federation," including president Vladimir Putin.
The IOC also reiterated its urgent recommendation not to organize any sports events in Russia or Belarus, which was first issued on Feb. 25.
"The Olympic Movement is united in its mission to contribute to peace through sport and to unite the world in peaceful competition beyond all political disputes," the IOC wrote in a statement. "The current war in Ukraine, however, puts the Olympic Movement in a dilemma.
"While athletes from Russia and Belarus would be able to continue to participate in sports events, many athletes from Ukraine are prevented from doing so because of the attack on their country."
On the fifth day of Russia's invasion, here's how the sports world responded
Since Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 23, sports federations, as well as athletes, have weighed in on the conflict. Here's what you need to know about what was said and enacted on Monday, the fifth day of the war.
• FIFA and EUFA announced that they have suspended all Russian teams from international competition in response to the invasion, changing course after their initial sanctions against the country and its allies were widely chastised as being insufficient.
• Canada Soccer said it would not compete at any level against Russia "until sovereignty and territorial integrity are restored."
• The International Olympic Committee "strongly urged" sports federations and event organizers to not invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international competitions, in a decisive recommendation that comes as the 2022 Paralympic Games are set to begin.
• Wayne Gretzky lamented the human toll of the ongoing crisis while zeroing in on what Edmonton, the host of the upcoming world juniors tournament, can do to make a difference.
When an outright barring of Russian or Belarusian athletes is not possible due to "organizational or logistical reasons," the IOC called on sports federations to do "everything in their power" to ensure no athlete or official from Russia or Belarus participates under the name of their countries. Those athletes would be accepted as neutral athletes or neutral teams, with no national symbols, flags or anthems, the IOC said.
At this time, Russian and Belarusian athletes have not been barred from participating in the 2022 Paralympic Games, which are set to begin on March 4, with the IOC saying that exceptions for organizational or logistical reasons were considered with the Games in mind.
According to the International Paralympic Committee, most of Russia’s 71 athletes are set to compete and will have arrived in Beijing by Tuesday.
Russia and Belarus continuing to participate in the Paralympics comes despite an open letter from Ukrainian athletes calling for the two countries to be banned from international sport, stemming from a “clear breach of the Olympic and Paralympic Charters” that “must be met with strong sanctions.”
The IOC's statement comes as the crisis in Ukraine remains dire. Several attacks on cities around the country have unfolded since the invasion started five days ago, when president Putin declared the start of a "special military operation" in Ukraine on Feb. 23, signalling the beginning of a conflict many had feared would arrive for months as Russia amassed a military presence near the Ukrainian border.
Belarus is an ally of Russia in the invasion, and has been a launch point for troops throughout the baseless military operation. Aleksandr Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, has said he sees Russia and Belarus as not only neighbours and allies, but a single nation with the shared aim of warding off Western influence in former Soviet lands.
The people of Ukraine have waged a fierce defence of their country, slowing the Russian forces as they bear down on Kyiev, the capital of Ukraine. As of Sunday, at least 352 civilians, including 14 children, have been killed since the invasion began, according to the Ukraine Interior Ministry.
"The IOC EB reaffirms its full solidarity with the Ukrainian Olympic Community," the IOC wrote. "They are in our hearts and thoughts. The IOC EB commits to continue and strengthen its efforts for humanitarian assistance. Therefore, the IOC EB has today established a solidarity fund."
Sports bodies around the world have attempted to navigate the crisis, levying sanctions and condemnations against the Russian invasion with varying degrees of severity.
After FIFA, the highest governing body of soccer in the world, drew swift backlash from European nations for its initial response to Russia's invasion, it changed course on Monday, banning Russian teams from international competition "until further notice" in a joint statement made with UEFA.
"Football is fully united here and in full solidarity with all the people affected in Ukraine," FIFA said in its statement. "Both Presidents hope that the situation in Ukraine will improve significantly and rapidly so that football can again be a vector for unity and peace amongst people."