Olympics-Russians, Belarusians will not take part in Paris Games opening parade of teams -IOC

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) -Russians and Belarusians will not take part in the parade of athletes at the opening ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympics in July, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Tuesday.

The athletes from the two countries who qualify for the Games will be competing as independents without their flags and anthems following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

The opening ceremony in Paris will not be held in a stadium but will be staged on the river Seine with teams floating past an estimated 300,000 spectators.

The Russians and Belarusians, who will be competing as individual neutral athletes (AINs) under a specially-created flag and with an anthem without lyrics produced by the IOC, will not be part of that parade.

"They will not participate in the parade of delegations during the opening ceremony, since they are individual athletes," the Olympic body said following an executive board meeting.

But it said they would experience all other parts of the opening ceremony apart from the team parade.

"This decision is the logical consequence of the fact that the athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports are not selected as delegations but as individual athletes," Paris 2024 Games organisers said in a statement following the IOC decision.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, who has long opposed a Russian presence at the Paris Olympics, welcomed the decision.

"I take note of the IOC's responsible decision regarding the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. This decision is a step in the right direction," she said in a statement to Reuters.

"For my part, I have always held a very clear position on the subject, refusing to allow Russian athletes to attend the Olympic Games since the beginning of the conflict.

"As I had the opportunity to say to the Kyiv City Council in February 2023, as long as Russian forces continue to bomb Ukraine, to target civilian populations, as long as Russian soldiers occupy this territory, I do not want Russian athletes to take part in the sporting events. Paris will always stand by the Ukrainian people."

ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA

The IOC said those athletes who do qualify will then be vetted by a three-member IOC panel in order to meet the eligibility criteria that the Olympic body established for Russians and Belarusians.

The panel is headed by IOC Vice President Nicole Hoevertsz and includes ex-NBA basketball champion Pau Gasol and South Korean former Olympic table tennis champion Ryu Seung-min.

Athletes who actively support the war, which Moscow calls a "special military operation", or are contracted to the military or security agencies will not be allowed to take part.

The IOC suspended the Russian Olympic Committee in October for recognising regional Olympic councils for Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine - Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

Earlier on Tuesday the IOC criticised Russia's plans to host their own 'Friendship Games' later in 2024, saying it was politicising sport and violating the Olympic Charter.

The IOC said an estimated 36 Russian and 22 Belarusian athletes are expected to make the cut for Paris, compared to the Russian team of 330 at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Belarus had a team of 104 at those Games.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Additional reporting by Julien Pretot in Paris; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Ken Ferris)