International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Kirsty Coventry has welcomed the move to facilitate the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes at sports events and their inclusion at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
Following the invasion of Ukraine in February last year, the IOC recommended that athletes from both countries are excluded from international competitions.
It has recently moved towards allowing them to compete as neutrals in qualifiers for Paris 2024, vowing to continue to “explore a pathway” for their return and welcoming an Olympic Council of Asia proposal for them to compete at its events.
Some opposition remains particularly in Europe, and the plans have sparked a fierce backlash in Ukraine, including discussions of a possible Paris 2024 boycott.
Zimbabwean official Coventry, a former IOC Athletes’ Commission chair and a seven-time Olympic swimming medallist, confirmed that she had been asked for her views and agreed with the initial measures taken.
“I’ve obviously been consulted and I’ve been speaking to a lot of different athletes and members, and the way in which the President [Thomas Bach] has decided to have those consultations, I think it has to happen,” she told insidethegames here at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Bahrain Olympic Committee, World Aquatics and GFH Financial Group.
“At the end of the day, our Olympic Values are to be open and welcome everyone, so I agree that it’s a first step, and let’s see how that then plays out.”The IOC has insisted that sanctions including a ban on Russian and Belarusian national symbols are “non-negotiable”, and vowed to ensure a “strong team” from Ukraine is present at Paris 2024 and Milan Cortina 2026.
The issue appears set to dominate the build-up to Paris 2024 and the final years of Bach’s tenure, with the German official due to reach the maximum 12 years as IOC President in 2025.
Speculation has begun with regards to his successor if there is no extension to the term limit, with World Athletics President Sebastian Coe from Britain hinting last month that he may consider standing.
Coventry has been viewed as a potential candidate for the role who would enjoy support among her fellow IOC members.
However, she was tight-lipped when asked if she has Presidential ambitions.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” she insisted.
Coventry was elected as a full IOC member in 2021 after her eight-year term as chair of the Athletes’ Commission came to an end, and chairs Coordination Commissions for the Brisbane 2032 Olympics and the Dakar 2026 Youth Olympics.
Other potential IOC Presidential candidates could include Aruba’s Nicole Hoevertsz, Japan’s Morinari Watanabe and Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain.