In a blow to their Olympic hopes, athletes from Russia and Belarus have not been allowed to compete at the Asian Games, which begin on September 23, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) said.
The decision, the OCA added without elaborating, was taken by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
This means that the Russian and Belarusian athletes, who are already in a race against time to compete at the Paris Olympics, will have to find another route to get to the French capital.
During its General Assembly in July, the OCA had in principle agreed to allow a maximum of 500 athletes from the two countries – which are facing international sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine – for the event in Hangzhou. However, their participation was subject to the IOC’s approval.
In a brief statement on Thursday, the OCA said the IOC did not give the green signal. The continental body told The Indian Express: “No Russian and Belarusian athletes (at the Asian Games) and it is IOC’s decision, not OCA.”
The IOC did not reply to a questionnaire sent by The Indian Express, asking why the Russians have not been allowed to compete at the Asian Games.
While it isn’t clear yet if the Russian athletes will not be allowed to compete just at the Asian Games or all continental Olympic qualifying events, the move will come as a setback to all those who were seeking qualification for the Paris Olympics via tournaments in Asia.
Russia and Belarus’s strained relationship with most European nations after the invasion of Ukraine last year in February was the key reason why they found themselves in a situation where they had to navigate their way to the Paris Olympics by competing in Asian events.
Following the war, the two sports bodies have faced sanctions by their European counterparts and a majority of the athletes have been exiled from many international sports. As the Road to Paris Olympics gathers pace, many qualifying tournaments are held in Europe. The Russians have not been allowed to take part in some of those events, including the recently-concluded European Games.
The Asian Games offers Olympic quotas in some of the major sports, including boxing where Russia, a country that has 75 per cent of its land mass in Asia, is a dominant force.
At the same time, the decision will come as a relief for nations who had expressed concerns over the invitation to the two countries and the impact it would have on the distribution of the Olympic quotas reserved for Asia.
The OCA had given each of the 32 sports on the Paris Olympics programme a choice of whether they wished to let the Russian and Belarusian athletes compete in their event. Had they been allowed, the athletes from the two countries could have participated only in individual events, not be eligible for medals and would have competed as neutrals, not under Russian and Belarusian flags.
In February, Russian media reported that the country’s wrestlers and gymnasts had received invitations to take part in the Asian Games.