Russian and Belarusian athletes will be allowed to compete as Individual Neutral Athletes (AIN) with "strict eligibility conditions," the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on Dec. 8.
Under the rules, Russian and Belarusian athletes will not be able to participate as teams nor display any flags or any official identification with either country. Athletes or support personnel who have openly supported the war will not be allowed, as will anyone who has served or is affiliated with either the military or security organizations of Russia or Belarus.
Russia was officially banned from competing in the Olympics for four years in 2019 due to systematic doping practices, but still participated in 2020 and 2022 under the flag of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). The ROC was suspended in October 2023 for declaring authority over the athletic organizations of Russian-occupied Ukraine.
So far, the IOC noted that only eight Russian athletes and three Belarusians have qualified, compared to more than 60 Ukrainians.
In July, the IOC announced it would not invite Russia or Belarus to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
IOC President Thomas Bach said on Oct. 14 that Russia's committee members won't be penalized because they have no ties to the country's military and do not support the war in Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials and athletes, who have consistently campaigned for Russian and Belarusian athletes to be banned altogether, reacted with public disappointment at the decision.
“The IOC essentially gave Russia the green light to weaponize the Olympics," Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote after the decision. "Because the Kremlin will use every Russian and Belarusian athlete as a weapon in its propaganda warfare."
Acting Youth and Sport Minister Matvii Bidnyi was similarly scathing of the decision.
"In times of war, you cannot hide behind the white flag of 'neutrality.' Neutrality at a time when Europe is experiencing the bloodiest war since World War II and one nation is trying to destroy another means irresponsibility and tacit acquiescence to the killers," he wrote on Facebook.
"What else does Russia have to do-who else does Russia have to kill for the International Olympic Committee to finally take off its rose-colored glasses about the terrorist country?"
The looming admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes raises the question of whether or not Ukraine will consider a boycott of the Paris games.
In the same post, Bidnyi said that his ministry would consult with the Ukrainian sporting community as well as the country's political leadership before coming to a decision later.