Russian sailors offered limited option to qualify for Paris Olympics


GENEVA — Russian and Belarusian sailors are set to get their only path to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics at a last-chance event in France next year – an option described as “madness” by Russia’s top sailing official on Wednesday.

The World Sailing governing body said races next April – called the Last Chance Regatta for Olympic qualification at the French Riviera resort Hyères – are the “targeted opportunity” for sailors with a passport from Russia and Belarus to return to international competition as neutral athletes.

The decision would exclude Russia and Belarus from five European qualification events and three global ones scheduled through March, as part of the countries’ ongoing broad exclusion from international sports during their war on Ukraine.

World Sailing’s decision announced Tuesday means Russians won’t be going to The Hague for the 2023 world championships, the main Olympic qualifier, scheduled at the Dutch city in August.

Final decisions on if and how Russians and Belarusians can return to sports has been left to individual governing bodies, after the International Olympic Committee gave guidance in March for the conditions to approve neutral athletes competing again as the Paris Games approach.

The IOC and its president Thomas Bach have suggested it would be discrimination to exclude Russians and Belarusians based solely on their passport.

World Sailing’s current position of offering just one possible, but not guaranteed, regatta to qualify for Paris was criticized by Russian sailing federation president Sergey Dzhienbaev.

Dzhienbaev said of the last-chance option “it is also madness to turn up without competitive practice and qualify for the Olympic Games,” in comments reported by Russian news agency Tass.

Russian sailors won no medals at the Tokyo Olympics, where six athletes competed in five of the 10 medal classes. Russia has won just a single bronze medal in Olympic sailing in the past 20 years, at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

World Sailing said in a statement it “remains wholly committed to supporting Ukraine’s sailing community through what continues to be an unimaginably difficult time.”

Global qualification events in 2024 could also be the only path for Russian boxers to advance to their tournament at the July 26-Aug. 11 Paris Games. They have been excluded from entering Poland for the European Games next month and seem unlikely to be approved for the Asian Games hosted by China in September.

In the Olympic sport of taekwondo, two Tokyo Olympic champions from Russia have been excluded from the world championships starting in Azerbaijan next week.

Maksim Khramtsov and Vladislav Larin were not on the list of 23 Russian and Belarusian athletes approved to compete as neutrals by World Taekwondo. Both athletes have expressed support for the war, which breaks a condition of neutrality suggested by the IOC.

World Taekwondo said of the approved list that its eligibility review panel “was assured that no athletes were actively engaged in the military and those who had held positions have since been discharged.” The issue of Russian and Belarusian status will be addressed at a May 31 meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, of the umbrella group of Olympic sports federations, known as ASOIF. 

Image credits: AP

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