Vladimir Putin wants Russians at Games, questions IOC rules

Russian President Vladimir Putin questioned the International Olympic Committee rules mandating Russian athletes compete at the Paris Olympics as neutrals.

Putin also indicated on Thursday that Russia has yet to take a final decision on whether its competitors will take part next year.

The IOC rejected a blanket ban last week when it confirmed Russians will be allowed to compete under the name of Individual Neutral Athletes.

The IOC wants no national symbols such as the flag or anthem, no team sports and to exclude athletes who are contracted to the Russian military or security services or who have publicly supported Russia's military campaign in Ukraine.

Similar measures apply for Russia's ally Belarus, which Moscow used as a staging ground for troops and equipment before sending its army into Ukraine.

"I've always said that athletes train for years and that they need to be given the opportunity to compete at the largest competitions, including the Olympic Games," Putin said. "Everyone knows, whether it's our flag or not, everyone knows it's our athlete. It's an obvious thing. And therefore in principle I supported our athletes going to such competitions, but now it needs to be carefully analyzed, what kind of conditions the IOC is setting out."

He expressed concern that "politically motivated artificial conditions" could be used to exclude top Russian competitors.

"If the aim of this is to cut out our leaders and show that Russian sport is not developing or on the contrary is withering away, then it is necessary for the Sports Ministry and the National Olympic Committee of Russia to analyze and to take a balanced decision," Putin said.

Russian athletes previously competed without national symbols at the Winter Olympics in 2018 and 2022 and at the last Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2021. On those occasions, the measures were part of the fallout from years of disputes over doping.

Russia has vigorously protested the restrictions against its athletes, arguing that they go against the spirit of the Games.

"Everything that international officials do in relation to Russian sports is a complete contradiction and distortion of the ideas of Pierre de Coubertin," Putin said, referring to the founder of the Olympic movement. "If they continue to act in the same way, they will bury the Olympic movement."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.