The head of the Paris Olympics organising committee Tony Estanguet said in an interview to mark 500 days before the start of the Games that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would have the “last word” on whether athletes from Russian and Belarus will be allowed to compete next year.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, assisted by its ally Belarus, there have been calls from across the sporting world either to ban their athletes or have them compete under a neutral flag.
Last week, however, the International Fencing Federation (FIE) became the first Olympic sport to reopen events to athletes from the two nations when it decided to allow fencers to compete in Olympic qualifying events, sparking outrage in Ukraine.
“The international federations are currently refining their qualifications, to know if Russian or Belarusian athletes will be allowed to participate in these qualifying competitions,” Estanguet told AFP.
“And then the IOC, depending on what the international federations have done, even if Russian or Belarusian athletes have qualified, will be able to say whether it will allow them to participate in these Games or not.
“This decision has not been taken. And Paris 2024 is not in a position to decide.”
Estanguet said the priority, however, was not the Olympics but “how the situation can be resolved quickly and how we can best support the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian athletes”.
The three-time Olympic gold medallist said he had discussed the Russia/Belarus question with French President Emmanuel Macron.
“Of course there are exchanges between us and the president of the republic, and between the president and the IOC,” Estanguet said.
“Again, it is the IOC that has the last word.”
In spite of the crisis surrounding the ongoing war in Ukraine, Estanguet sounded upbeat as he looked ahead to next year’s Olympics and Paralympics in the French capital.
“We feel that all the ingredients are in place for the magic of the Games to work,” he said.
“The athletes are already qualifying, the infrastructure continues to advance... fans are readying themselves. Three million tickets were sold in the first phase of sales, in less than three weeks, a record in France.
“The green light is on, we are on schedule, we still have the same ambitions.”
In spite of the high sales, the organising committee has come in for criticism for the high price of tickets and the system being used to sell them.
“There are many more people interested than there are tickets available, even though we have 13 million tickets,” he said, citing numbers for the Olympics and the Paralympics combined.
“There are still opportunities (to get tickets). That starts with the second phase (beginning on Wednesday).
“There will not be enough for everyone and I expect that this second phase will continue to generate disappointments and frustrations. It’s inevitable. But some people will be lucky, you have to take your chances.”
Estanguet also said there was “still time to refine” the opening ceremony which organisers intend to hold on the Seine, the river that cuts through Paris.
“There are still adaptations to be made,” he said. “It is normal and I think that there will be many between now and July 26, 2024.”