Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center Stadium (back) and Tennis Centre in Hangzhou.© AFP
Up to 500 Russian and Belarusian athletes will be allowed to compete as neutrals at the Asian Games in China later this year, organisers said Saturday. Both countries have been excluded from many sports events since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, though individual athletes have since been allowed to compete under certain restrictions. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) earlier this year said that a pathway for their athletes’ participation in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games should be explored.
At a meeting in Bangkok Saturday, the General Assembly of the Olympic Council of Asia voted to allow a maximum of 500 competitors from the pariah countries to compete, so that they may try and qualify for Paris.
“We propose to allow Russian and Belarusian independent athletes — again, independent athletes; 500 the quota — to compete in neutral flag as independent athletes,” said OCA director general Husain al-Musallam, before the assembly passed the motion.
He added that no politicians from Russia or Belarus would be invited to the Games — which kick off in Hangzhou in late September — and no symbols of either nation would be allowed.
The athletes also would not be in medal contention.
One of the world’s biggest multi-sport events, the Asian Games typically attracts more than 10,000 athletes from across the continent.
The Hangzhou edition was due to take place in September 2022, but was postponed by a year because of China’s strict Covid-19 rules.
Russian and Belarusian involvement at major events has met opposition in Europe, most vocally from Ukraine.
The IOC has made clear that such neutral participation will only apply to individuals, not team sports.
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