By Peter Kenny
GENEVA (AA) - Two UN experts praised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Wednesday for considering allowing athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate in international sports competitions as neutral contestants.
"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," said experts.
On Jan. 25 and following discussions with two special rapporteurs, the Executive Board of the IOC issued a statement referring to the need to respect the rights of all athletes to be treated without discrimination, per the Olympic Charter.
Days after the Russian “special military operation” in Ukraine began last February, the IOC recommended banning Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials, such as judges, from international competitions.
The experts said the recent statement appeared to be a reversal of the policy.
"The IOC recommendation raised serious issues of direct discrimination because athletes should not be discriminated against based on their nationality," said the experts.
"We understand the desire to support Ukrainian athletes and the Ukrainian Olympic community, who suffer terribly from the war, together with all other Ukrainians," they said.
- ‘Abide by Olympic Charter’
They noted that the Olympic Committee and, more widely, the Olympic community have "the compelling obligation to abide by the Olympic Charter" and, more widely, international human rights norms prohibiting discrimination.
"When States so flagrantly ignore human rights, we have a greater obligation to support our common values," they said.
The experts said while understanding all precautions must be taken to prevent sports competitions from being instrumentalized, no athlete should be required to take sides in the conflict.
Referring to the IOC's condition that only Russian and Belarussian athletes who had 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," they said. "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."
The UN experts wrote to the IOC on Sept. 14 and received a response Nov. 11.
The UN experts are Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, and Ashwini K.P., Special Rapporteur on contemporary racism, xenophobia and related intolerance.