Hosting nations in conflict during the Olympics, "it has already happened a lot of times, and the organizers have managed each time," said a member of the athletes' commission of the organizing committee (Cojo) on condition of anonymity.

"For years, nations that are not friends have been cohabiting in a competition like the Olympics. If the Russians are allowed under a neutral banner, it will not be a plunge into the unknown," confirms a source close to the Cojo.


"This is also the Olympic spirit, that all athletes can participate in the Olympics, and coexist," said the source.

The headquarters of the Russian Olympic Committee on March 29, 2023 in Moscow © NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP

Countries such as Iran and Iraq, in armed conflict for nearly eight years (1980-1988), participated in two Olympics during this period. Iran and the United States have also regularly crossed paths with the Olympic Games.

These cohabitations between athletes of nations either at war or in tension, paradoxically gave rise very few times to incidents.

In Rio in 2016, for example, Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby refused to shake hands with his winner, Israel's 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 is really this idea of a truce during the Olympics. Athletes come to celebrate sport," said a source close to the sports authorities.

The IOC's decision on the participation of Russians and Belarusians in the Paris Olympics has not yet been taken. But after excluding the two countries from world sport following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2021, he recommended that international federations reintegrate, under conditions, athletes from 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," said Lukas Aubin, a geopolitician of sport.

IOC President Thomas Bach and IOC members meet to discuss the possibility of allowing Russian athletes to compete under a neutral banner at the 2024 Olympic Games on March 28, 2023 in Lausanne © Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Some federations have followed this recommendation, as in tennis for example, which IOC President Thomas Bach often recalls when referring to a successful reinstatement.

"He has every interest in doing it, except that in reality, we have seen it especially in tennis, it is not so fluid," said Lukas Aubin.

In the context of the Olympics, an event tightened over 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 when the same IOC decided to exclude Russia. This could be perceived as an insult by Ukraine," Aubin said.

"Concretely I think there will be a physical separation of nations in the village. We saw it with tennis, cohabitation is possible, but it does not necessarily go well in the locker room, "adds Lukas Aubin.

"Top priority"

This scenario of cohabitation in the village or on competitions, or even on the podiums during the Paris Olympics is in any case envisaged and anticipated on the side of the organizers.

Ukrainian international artistic swimmers train on April 6, 2023 in Kiev © Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP/Archives

"We organizing committee, we must welcome the athletes who will be qualified and confirmed by the IOC and the IPC," said the boss of the organizing committee Tony Estanguet.

"Our goal is to keep the athletes safe. Of course we look at these topics very carefully," says the former three-time Olympic gold medalist.

"These athlete safety issues are still a bit of the top priority, so it will be taken into account (...). Once the decision is made, we will make sure that the security arrangements match these delegations."

© 2023 AFP