IJF President Marius Vizer has claimed judo promotes peace ©Getty Images

The International Judo Federation (IJF) President Marius Vizer has defended the reintroduction of athletes from Russia and Belarus, stating the governing body is "fostering peace" by lifting the ban.

In a statement, the IJF head said the organisation "continues to defend its non-discrimination and fair play principles", with the return of the athletes under neutral banners.

They had been allowed to compete as neutrals previously, before a decision was made in September to have an outright ban until January 2023 - with the turn of the year allowing them to return neutrally.

Vizer said this must be followed across the sporting world, with few doing so, so far. 

"The IJF is fostering peace, friendship and unity everywhere the judo values are needed," said Vizer.

"The reintegration of the judoka from Russia and Belarus in the international competition circuit relies on unassailable arguments. 

"First of all, one of the main pillars of the Olympic Charter remains the discrimination-free participation of athletes, without exceptions."

The lifting of the ban is related to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, with assistance from Belarus.

Belarus and Russia judokas have had to compete neutrally during the war in Ukraine ©IJF
Belarus and Russia judokas have had to compete neutrally during the war in Ukraine ©IJF

Four days after the invasion, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended the indefinite suspension of athletes and officials from both countries, leading to most following an outright ban - but not the likes of the IJF who allowed neutral participation.

Now, with the outright temporary ban coming to an end, Vizer defended allowing athletes to compete neutrally.

"The Russian and Belarusian judo athletes, regardless of their professional profile, from the beginning of the invasion until now, have never participated in any military activity and have avoided involvement in any political or party propaganda, as their decision was to remain in sport and continue to prepare, waiting for the moment they can return to competition," added the IJF head.

"Sport has always been, continues to be and shall remain the most important platform for unity, solidarity and friendship, even if not between nations, surely between people. 

"The Olympic Movement and the wider sports movement are the only bridges that in this current difficult moment can manage an open dialogue and create a reconciliation model which could inspire all parties involved in or supporting the conflict, to solve the existing antagonism.

"Having had two previous Olympic Games experiences where governments prevented their own athletes from participation, today we are in an extreme situation, where governments are banning or blocking athletes from other countries, not their own, from attending international sports events. 

"I consider that condemning the athletes who, through their participation in sport are obviously supporting peace, friendship and solidarity, in the spirit of humanity, is an excessive and unacceptable measure."