Russia has no intention of boycotting Paris 2024. GETTY IMAGES

Russia isn't considering boycotting the Paris 2024 Olympic Games," declared Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsinhas declared, despite the restrictions imposed on its athletes as a result of the Kremlin's offensive in Ukraine.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended Russia, and Belarus, from the Paris 2024 Games last December, but gave the green light for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals, without national symbols, provided they do not actively support Russia's offensive campaign in Ukraine.

Faced with the inability of Russians to represent their country like other athletes, Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin was quoted by the state news agency TASS as saying: "We shouldn't turn our backs, close ourselves off, boycott this movement. We should maintain the possibility of dialogue and take part in the competitions as much as possible".

According to AFP, the minister ruled out expecting any flexibility from the IOC when its executive board meets next week: "We will see what the final decision of the International Olympic Committee will be (...) but so far the position is that there will be no new recommendations and regulations," he ventured.

The IOC has always presented its decision as final, but it has yet to rule on the presence of Russian and Belarusian athletes at the opening ceremony, scheduled for 26 July. They have already been banned from the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games on 28 August, but the decision on the Olympic ceremony is still pending.

Oleg Matytsin (L) and Russian Olimpic Committee President Stanislav Pozdnyakov. GETTY IMAGES
Oleg Matytsin (L) and Russian Olimpic Committee President Stanislav Pozdnyakov. GETTY IMAGES

Until Matytsin's intervention, it wasn't clear whether Russia would still recommend its athletes to go to Paris. Russia had challenged the IOC's suspension, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed the case last month.

Matytsin said Moscow couldn't make "general recommendations" to all its athletes because "each international federation has a different approach". "Some ban participation altogether (such as World Athletics), others allow the right to participate in a neutral status," the minister pointed out.

He stressed that despite the ban, the Olympic Games remain important for Russia: "It is very important for athletes and our society to maintain dialogue and to give our boys the opportunity to show how great we are as a sporting country in a fair fight." 

Given this scenario, the question is whether the athletes who qualify will actually go. Some time ago, the world's largest country called the restrictions "humiliating" and "discriminatory", but it has not told the country's athletes whether they should attend the Paris Games or not. According to AFP, Russian President Vladimir Putin also refrained from giving advice on their participation this summer.

Vladimir Putin, on television at the Kremlin in Moscow on 12 March 2024. GETTY IMAGES
Vladimir Putin, on television at the Kremlin in Moscow on 12 March 2024. GETTY IMAGES

"The conditions must be carefully considered," Putin said in December, when only eight Russians and three Belarusians met the IOC's criteria. In December, the IOC announced unprecedented restrictions for athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus who hoped to compete in Paris.

Not only must they compete as neutrals, but they cannot "actively support the war" or be "under contract to the Russian or Belarusian national armed forces or security services," the IOC ruled. 

The IOC has also banned any display of the flags and anthems of the two countries at the 2024 Games. And no government or state officials from Russia or Belarus will be invited to the quadrennial sporting feast. Even before Moscow's February 2022 offensive in Ukraine, backed by Belarus, Russia's participation in the Olympic movement had been limited by a series of state-sponsored doping scandals denied by the Kremlin.