Once again, the International Olympic Committee gets the gold medal in cowardice. Hypocrisy, too.
The Paris Games are 16 months away, qualifying is already happening in several sports and pretty much everyone is clamoring for an answer on whether Russia will be allowed to compete. Instead of making a tough decision – or any decision, really – the IOC took the brave act of pushing the problem off on someone else and doing it in such a way the Russians might get so ticked off they’ll say they don’t want to go to Paris, anyway.
“In this extremely complex situation, nobody knows what’s happening tomorrow or in one week or in nine months,” IOC president Thomas Bach said Tuesday.
That might be the first true statement the man has ever uttered.
This shouldn’t even be a choice. The IOC banned Russia, and Belarus by extension, after last year’s invasion of Ukraine. The unprovoked war was in violation of the Olympic truce, coming between the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics. It also violated the Olympic charter.
Neither of those things have changed.
If anything, the case for banning Russia has gotten stronger. In the 13 months since Bach’s old buddy Vladimir Putin launched a war designed to erase Ukraine’s very existence, Ukrainian officials said more than 200 athletes have been killed, including a figure skater who competed at the Youth Olympic Games in 2016. Training facilities across Ukraine have been bombed to smithereens, and Olympic hopefuls have been forced to flee the country.
There also is evidence of a litany of war crimes committed by the Russians, including rape, murder and torture. To say nothing of the indiscriminate bombing of civilians and civic infrastructure.
But Bach is petrified of losing favor with Putin. He’s excused Russia’s systemic doping program and ignored their flouting of sanctions for it. To think he’s finally going to show a spine because of a war that’s killed thousands and left millions more homeless is hopelessly naïve.
As usual, Bach did not disappoint.
The IOC’s executive board, he said Tuesday, didn’t even discuss the question of Russia and Belarus’ eligibility for Paris or the Winter Games in Milan and Cortina in 2026. Nor would the IOC tell the international sports federations whether to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete in the leadup to the Games, with Bach saying it wasn’t the IOC’s place to tell them what to do.
How and why this differs from the blanket ban the IOC issued last year, I don’t know. And Bach's gobbledygook about Russian athletes now being safe from political pressure was just that. Gobbledygook. But inconsistencies are trivial so long as the doubletalk suits Bach and the IOC's end purpose.
The IOC did provide some helpful guidelines for sports federations that welcome back athletes from Russia and Belarus, however. Only individual athletes, not teams, are allowed. Only athletes who have not actively supported the war can compete, and any athletes “contracted” to the military or a state security agency are banned.
Again, why the IOC can tell the federations which athletes can compete but not whether they should be allowed to do so is a twist of logic if there ever was one.
While the guidelines might appear to be common sense, they also serve the purpose of doing the IOC’s dirty work for it. Bach wants to be able to tell Putin it’s not his fault Russia can’t co-opt, errr, compete in the Paris Games, but he knows darned well the restrictions will rule out most Russian athletes, their medal winners in particular.
The gymnasts who won the men’s team gold in Tokyo as well as three individual medals? They bought a drone for the Russian military. Angelina Melnikova, who led Russia to the women’s team gold and then won bronzes in the all-around and on floor? She proudly displayed the pro-war "Z“ symbol at a Victory Day parade.
Evegeny Rylov, the swimmer who won both the 100- and 200-meter backstroke in Tokyo? He’s an officer in the National Guard. Same for the shooter who won a pair of golds and a silver medal.
And on and on it goes. Of Russia’s 71 medals in Tokyo, almost half were won by athletes who are part of or sponsored by the military.
Even if the IOC doesn't take qualifications into account when -- if -- it finally makes a decision on Russia's participation in Paris, the standard has been set. It's going to be real hard to make a case the IOC should let an athlete into the Olympics who's already been ruled out by swimming or gymnastics.
Needless to say, the reaction from Russia was less than enthused.
“The parameters as announced are absolutely unacceptable,” Stanislav Pozdnyakov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee, said at a news conference.
“Neutral status is a violation of human rights,” Pozdnyakov added, all irony apparently lost on him. “We believe the proposed conditions to be groundless, void of legal basis and excessive.”
You know what else is void of legal basis and excessive? Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But Russia knows the IOC won't hold it accountable.
“It’s a day of shame for the IOC!!” Piotr Wawrzyk, deputy foreign minister of Poland, Ukraine’s staunchest ally against Russia’s return, said on Twitter.
Shame, however, is nothing new for Bach's IOC. Sadly, it's come to be expected.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: IOC is a profile in cowardice, putting off Olympic decision on Russia