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It is up to the IOC to decide whether Russia can compete, says the head of the Paris Olympics

origin 1Olena Kostevych and Bogdan Nikishin carry the flag of Ukraine during the opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium of the 2020 Summer Olympics in 2021. ©David J. Phillip/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved

A contest that could define the 2024 Paris Olympics takes place 18 months before the medals are awarded. He’s giving the International Olympic Committee a political challenge with 1980s echoes.

Ukraine kicked off its campaign on Friday to exclude Russia and military ally Belarus from the upcoming Summer Games, speaking in Kiev of a boycott and support for sympathetic governments in the Baltics and elsewhere in Europe.

The IOC replied in a statement that “it is regrettable that politicians are misusing athletes and sports as tools to achieve their political goals”.

The pushback has been fierce in the 10 days since the IOC established its preferred route for Russian and Belarusian athletes who don’t actively support the war to try and qualify for Paris as neutrals.

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Russian athletes “could be admitted to the Olympics,” says the head of the IOC

Citing human rights arguments – that no athlete should face discrimination solely because of the passport they hold – the IOC appeared ready to punish the protesting parties rather than the warring aggressors.

The IOC pointed to its own rules and Olympic history to back up its case.

The rules document states that each of the 206 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) is obligated to participate in the Olympic Games by sending athletes.

Any NOC can choose to boycott an Olympics based on honest principle, knowing that in Lausanne the deed will not be easily forgotten or forgiven.

First boycott since 1988?

No team has boycotted the Olympics since North Korea snubbed its neighbor South for the 1988 Seoul Summer Games.

This closed a different period in Olympic history after significant boycotts at every Summer Games from 1976 to 1984.

A swathe of African countries stayed away from Montreal in 1976 because New Zealand would be there soon after its iconic rugby team toured South Africa.

The United States led the largest boycott in 1980. More than 60 teams refused to go to Moscow after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. IOC President Thomas Bach was among the West German athletes unable to go, denying him a chance to defend his team fencing title.

Revenge four years later saw the Los Angeles Olympics snubbed by the Soviet Union and Eastern European allies.

Most famously, South Africa was banned by the IOC from competing in any Olympic Games from 1964 to 1988 due to its apartheid system of racial discrimination laws.

To find out more, watch the RockedBuzz via Euronews report in the video above.