It’s a small step ahead in the thawing of the Ukraine-Russia sports impasse.
Ukraine have indicated their athletes will be allowed to compete against Russians who are participating in sporting events as “neutral athletes". This is a step forward in the relaxing of its boycott policy one before the Paris Olympics.
A decree dated Wednesday, July 26, says Ukrainian athletes and teams will be required to boycott only if competitors from Russia or Belarus are competing under their national flags or other symbols, or have demonstrated kinship to either of those countries in different ways.
This development could pave the way for Ukrainians to compete at next year's Paris Olympics. Earlier, Ukrainian athletes boycotted events which allowed Russians and Belarusians as “Individual Neutral Athletes," the preferred term of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
On Thursday, within a day after the decree, a prominent Ukrainian athlete competed against a “neutral” Russian contestant.
At the Olympic qualifying World Fencing Championships in Milan, Olympic champion Olga Kharlan competed against officially-neutral Russian opponent Anna Smirnova. She won 15-7. But Smirnova refused to leave in protest because Kharlan refused to shake hands with her.
The IOC supports the idea of permitting Russians and Belarusians to participate in Olympic qualifying events as "neutral athletes" without displaying national symbols. Most governing bodies of Olympic sports have implemented this IOC policy or are in the process of developing plans to do so.
However, the IOC still advises against allowing Russia and Belarus to compete as a team in team sports. Additionally, athletes who are affiliated with the military or security forces would also be excluded from participating.
Regarding the 2024 Paris Olympics, the IOC has not yet reached a final decision on whether "neutral" Russian and Belarusian athletes will be allowed to compete.
Earlier, Ukraine had strongly opposed this policy, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressing in January that "any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood.”