Russia at the Olympics: Can Russian athletes compete, and what does AIN mean?

Russia at the Olympics: Can Russian athletes compete, and what does AIN mean?
No Russian athlete will be competing under the Russian flag in Paris - AP/David J. Phillip

Countries being absent from an Olympic Games is nothing new with many sidelined due to political reasons while others have boycotted Games for protest reasons.

The Paris Games take place this summer from July 26 to August 11 and the issue of Russia and the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in the Olympics has stirred plenty of reaction.

Is Russia banned from the Olympics?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, saying that the Olympic Truce had been breached and banning athletes from both Russia and Belarus from competing.

For now the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) remains suspended from the IOC after an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was dismissed last year.

CAS found the IOC executive board’s initial decision “did not breach the principles of legality, equality, predictability or proportionality”.

The IOC suspended the ROC on October 12 last year, after the ROC took a unilateral decision on Oct 5 to include as members regional sports organisations which were under the authority of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee. These regional organisations were within territories annexed by the Russian military amid its invasion of Ukraine.

But will Russian (and Belarusian) athletes still be competing in Paris?

Yes, but with caveats. The decision by CAS to uphold the ROC’s suspension does not affect individual Russian athletes’ ability to compete as neutrals at the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games, provided they meet eligibility criteria imposed by the IOC.

A pathway has been created that gives sports individual jurisdiction over whether Russian athletes may compete as neutrals, subject to conditions such as them having no direct link to the military or being active supporters of the war.

Athletics, which is the biggest Olympic sport, has opted to impose an outright ban on Russian and Belarussian athletes since the invasion started in Feb 2022, although other sports such as swimming have accepted their participation as neutrals.

The inclusion of neutral athletes remains a contentious issue and Ukraine has condemned the decision as “shameful”. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has previously said it was “obvious that any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood.”

The ROC have said that they will not boycott the Games despite Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo’s admission that she would prefer that Russian and Belarusian athletes did not compete.

Have Russia been banned before?

Yes, but previously it was for widespread doping violations. Paris is the fifth straight Olympics - summer and winter - where Russia and its athletes have faced calls to be banned, since the steroid-tainted Games in Sochi in 2014.

For the 2018 Winter Olympics, individual Russian athletes were allowed to compete neutrally under the Olympic Flag and the anthem as an ‘Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)’, with the ROC suspended by the IOC.

The ROC was reinstated prior to 2020 but there were still sanctions, and individual Russian athletes for both the 2020 Summer Games and 2022 Winter Games competed under the flag of the ‘Russian Olympic Committee’ and acronym ‘ROC’.

There were 335 participants in Tokyo under the name of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). Those athletes won 71 medals - more than Team GB and only behind the United States and China.

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Russia and Belarus were banned by the IOC and in March 2023, the AIN name was introduced for Russian and Belarusian athletes.

What does AIN mean?

AIN stands for Athlète Individuel Neutre, the French name for individual neutral athlete with AIN both the acronym and IOC country code. The delegation is banned from using the neutral Olympic flag or anthem. They are also banned from parading in the opening ceremony.

Will the Russian and Belarus flag be used at the Olympics?

In short, no. Neutral athletes will compete only in individual sports this summer without emblems, flags or national anthems.

The AIN flag depicts a circular AIN emblem in white on a teal background.

So what anthem will be played if athletes from Russia or Belarus win gold?

The IOC has also produced an independent anthem, with no lyrics, to be played for any Russian or Belarusian gold medal winners in France this summer.

How many Russian athletes are expected to compete in Paris?

Far fewer Russian athletes are expected in Paris this summer than for the previous Games in Tokyo. The IOC expects there to be around 40 individual neutral athletes from Russia competing in Paris. There will not be any representation in team sports.

What about Belarus?

The number of Belarus athletes is expected to be even less, at around 20.

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