Climbing on Monday became the latest Olympic sport to say it would welcome back Russian and Belarusian athletes.
The International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) announced that climbers from the two countries, banned since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, would be allowed to compete under a neutral banner from 2024.
Climbing joined the dozen or so sports that have followed the call by International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach in March to find a “pathway” for athletes from Russia and Belarus to at the very least try and qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
While fencing, cycling and judo immediately authorised the return of the Russians and Belarusians, the IFSC Executive Committee has decided only to “start a process for the reinstatement of athletes holding Russian or Belarusian passports as neutral athletes starting from 2024”.
“Athletes with Russian or Belarusian passports will be required to obtain neutral licences as a precondition to register themselves to IFSC events from 2024,” said the IFSC statement.
It did not specify how athletes would obtain the licences.
“The decision to initiate the process of reinstating athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports was not an easy one and was not taken lightly,” said IFSC President Marco Scolaris.
“The IFSC remains firm condemning the Russian aggression to Ukraine and continues to stand by our Ukrainian National Federation and climbers, and the Ukrainian people. We believe in the values of Olympism and inclusion,” he said. “We are also aware that - tragically - more than one hundred armed conflicts are more or less raging around the globe.
“Therefore, we tried to find a balance between the different positions and create a system which can be implemented fairly in the future also for conflicts in different areas.”
Climbing made its Olympic debut in Tokyo in 2021 with gold medals for men’s and women’s combined events, made up of speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing.
In Tokyo, Russian climbers competed as Russian Olympic Committee athletes. Their best placed finishers were Viktoria Meshkova, ninth in the women’s event, and Aleksey Rubtsov, 13th in the men’s combined.
In Paris, there will be four golds, with speed climbing becoming a separate event.
Qualifying has already started and Russians and Belarusians remain banned from the World Championships in August in Bern and from the continental qualifiers scheduled for the autumn.
But the decision means Russians and Belarusians can continue to dream of securing Olympic berths in the final competition with places at stake: the invitational Olympic Qualifier Series from March to June 2024.
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