The possible presence of Russian and Belarusian athletes in a year at the Paris Olympics raises the question of their possible cohabitation with the Ukrainians, a situation not necessarily unprecedented for the sports world. Welcoming nations in conflict during the Olympics, “it has already happened a lot of times, and the organizers have always been able to manage”, assures a member of the Athletes' Commission of the Organizing Committee (Cojo) on condition of anonymity. “For years, nations that are not friends have cohabited in a competition like the Olympics. If the Russians are authorized under a neutral banner, it will not be a plunge into the unknown,” confirms a source close to the Cojo. “It is also the Olympic spirit, that all athletes can participate in the Olympics, and live together”, recalls this source.
Countries like Iran and Iraq, in armed conflict for almost eight years (1980-1988), participated in two Olympic Games during this period. Iran and the United States have also regularly crossed paths in the Olympics. These cohabitations between athletes of nations either at war or in tension, have paradoxically very rarely given rise to incidents. In Rio in 2016, for example, the Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby refused to shake hands with his winner, the Israeli Or Sasson. In Tokyo, an Algerian judoka also withdrew from the competition so as not to have to face an Israeli.
“I don't remember a fight in the athletes' restaurant, or in the village or at the competition venues. There really is this idea of a truce during the Olympics. The athletes come to celebrate the sport”, explains a source close to the sports authorities. The IOC's decision on the participation of Russians and Belarusians for the Paris Olympics has not yet been taken. But after having excluded the two countries from world sport following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2021, he recommended to the international federations, to reintegrate, under conditions, the sportsmen of these two countries, who would not have "actively supported" the war. A decision deemed unacceptable by the Ukrainian authorities who threaten to boycott the Paris Olympics. “It is above all a political posture, lobbying”, estimates Lukas Aubin, geopolitician of sport.
Some federations have followed this recommendation, as in tennis for example, which IOC President Thomas Bach often recalls when referring to successful reintegration. “He has every interest in doing it, except that in reality, we have seen it especially in tennis, it is not so fluid”, recalls Lukas Aubin. In the context of the Olympic Games, an event restricted to a few days, the context would be different. “In any case, it would clearly not be unprecedented. What would be is that if the IOC decides to reinstate the Russians, the military situation will not necessarily have changed at the time when the same IOC had decided to exclude Russia. This could be seen as an insult by Ukraine,” said Lukas Aubin. “Concretely I think there will be a physical separation of nations in the village. We have seen it with tennis, cohabitation is possible, but it does not necessarily go well in the locker room, ”he adds.
This scenario of a cohabitation in the village or on the competitions, even on the podiums during the Paris Olympics is in any case considered and anticipated on the organizers' side. "We organizing committee, we must welcome athletes who will be qualified and confirmed by the IOC and the IPC", recalled the boss of the organizing committee Tony Estanguet. “Our goal is to keep the athletes safe. Obviously we look at these subjects with great attention, ”says the former triple Olympic gold medalist kayaker. “These athlete safety issues are still somewhat of the absolute priority, so this will be taken into account (…). Once the decision is made, we will ensure that the security system matches well with these delegations.