In a reversal, the International Olympic Committee now says that qualifying athletes from Russia and close ally Belarus are allowed to compete in the 2024 Summer Games — as "Individual Neutral Athletes," a decision that was immediately condemned by both Ukraine and Russia.

But the IOC said athletes from the two countries will not be allowed to compete on teams.

Friday's decision comes after these athletes were barred from competing in 2022 over Russia's ongoing war with Ukraine. Belarusian athletes were similarly banned because Belarus allowed Russia to use its territory to carry out attacks on Ukraine.

As neutral competitors, there are strict guidelines for eligibility. Athletes would have to abstain from displaying their nations' "flag, anthem, colours or any other identifications whatsoever of Russia or Belarus," according to guidelines from the IOC. No Russian and Belarusian state officials will be invited to the games in Paris either.

This July, the IOC announced that Russia and Belarus wouldn't receive formal invitations to participate in the Paris Games, which will run from July 26 to Aug. 11, 2024.

The IOC Executive Board recommended barring Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from participating in the games just four days into the war in Ukraine.

Fast-forward nearly a year: In January 2023, the IOC began mulling a reversal: Competitors would remain neutral from their nations. IOC officials argued a total ban could be considered discrimination. They said athletes shouldn't lose their ability to compete just because of the origin of their passport.

Ukraine and Russia both criticize the IOC's latest decision

"The IOC essentially gave Russia the green light to weaponize the Olympics," Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's foreign affairs minister, wrote Friday in response on X (formally known as Twitter). "Because the Kremlin will use every Russian and Belarusian athlete as a weapon in its propaganda warfare. I urge all partners to strongly condemn this shameful decision, which undermines Olympic principles."

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials have repeatedly urged the IOC to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Games. "The Russian state has chosen the path of terror," he said in a video address to sports officials from dozens of countries in February. "That is why it has no place in the civilized world."

Russia maintains that forcing these athletes to participate neutrally is discriminatory. "They are going against the principles of sport," Oleg Matytsin, Russia's sports minister, said Friday. "They are damaging the Olympic Games themselves, and not Russian sport."

In a separate controversy, Russian athletes were banned from competing internationally under their flag by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2019, over non-compliance with anti-doping regulations. That four-year ban was reduced to two years after Russia filed an appeal with the Court Arbitration for Sport.

Russia has been suspended from competing in the Olympics since 2017 over evidence of state-sponsored doping. A report found that more than 1,000 Russian athletes were involved. But those athletes were permitted to compete as an "OAR" or Olympic Athlete from Russia, represented by the Olympic flag.

Under the same IOC guidelines for Russian and Belarusian athletes competing in Paris in 2024, athletes participating neutrally must respect the Olympic charter. They can still be barred from competing neutrally if they have actively supported the war in Ukraine or have not fully complied with WADA's anti-doping rules.

Russia sees bias in allowing Israeli athletes to compete

But in the wake of Hamas' attack on Israel and Israel's subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip, Russian officials are accusing the IOC of hypocrisy by allowing Israeli athletes to participate in the 2024 Games.

"This is, of course, outrageous." Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last month. "Once again we see an example of the bias and ineptitude of the International Olympic Committee, which time and again proves its political bent. ... it actively supports everything that meets the interests of Western countries, primarily the United States, and tries to find wordings that generally props up this policy."

But an IOC spokesperson said Russia's war with Ukraine is a "unique situation" and can't be compared to other conflicts around the world.

Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland previously threatened to boycott the Paris Games if Russian and Belarusian athletes were allowed to participate. As of April, Ukraine's sports minister said 262 of the country's athletes had been killed in the conflict with Russia.

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