Ten Russian Wrestlers Decline Invitations to Compete in Paris Olympics

Ten Russian Wrestlers Decline Invitations to Compete in Paris Olympics

Ten Russian wrestlers have declined invitations to compete in the Paris Olympics as neutral athletes, a decision announced by the Russian Wrestling Federation (RWF) on Saturday. This move comes after some of Russia’s top wrestlers, including two-time gold medalist Abdulrashid Sadulaev and 2023 world champion Zaurbek Sidakov, were left off the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) list of invited neutral athletes.

The RWF stated that its executive committee, national teams’ coaching staff, and the invited athletes unanimously decided to refuse participation in the Olympics. “We do not accept the unsportsmanlike selection principle that guided the International Olympic Committee when forming the list of eligible athletes, the purpose of which is to undermine the principle of unity of our team,” the RWF said in a statement.

The wrestlers would have represented the largest group of Russians in any one sport at the Paris Olympics. The IOC has not yet responded to requests for comment on the RWF’s decision, nor has it addressed whether the wrestlers faced any pressure to refuse or if it would support any wrestler who might want to compete against the federation’s wishes.

According to the RWF, up to 16 Russian wrestlers had qualified for the Paris Olympics, not just the 10 invited by the IOC. The federation criticized the selection process, stating that six of the invited athletes were “far from the status of Russian team leaders.” The RWF listed the names of top Russian wrestlers who did not receive invitations and argued that the Olympic event would be devalued without their participation.

“Any sane person understands that the status of the Olympic Games as the most significant sporting event is being questioned, and wrestling competitions without Russian athletes will be incomplete, and the champions will not receive the satisfaction of winning the Olympic tournament,” the statement added.

This decision follows the withdrawal of Russian cyclist Aleksandr Vlasov from the Olympics last month. Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to participate only as neutrals—without flags, anthems, or any role in the opening parade—due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. The IOC has stated that it would issue invitations only to Russian and Belarusian athletes who do not have ties to the security services or military and who have not publicly supported the war.

Last week, the Russian judo federation also decided not to send any athletes to Paris. The IOC told The Associated Press that it was waiting for an “individual reply” from the judo athletes. As of Sunday, the IOC website listed 23 Russian athletes in seven sports who had accepted invitations for the Paris Olympics, including the wrestlers. Among them is 2021 US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, one of six tennis players who have accepted.

The Paris Olympics are scheduled to run from July 26 to August 11, with the wrestling competition starting on August 5.

The RWF’s decision to decline the invitations is seen as a protest against what it perceives as an unfair selection process by the IOC. The federation’s statement emphasized that the exclusion of top Russian wrestlers would diminish the quality and significance of the wrestling competitions at the Olympics.

The IOC’s criteria for inviting athletes from Russia and Belarus have been stringent, requiring them to demonstrate that they do not support Russia’s war on Ukraine and have no ties to the Russian military. These athletes would compete in neutral uniforms and would not be allowed to participate in team events or the opening ceremony.

The decision by the Russian wrestlers to decline the invitations adds to the growing list of Russian athletes and federations opting out of the Paris Olympics. The Russian judo federation’s recent decision not to send athletes to Paris further highlights the discontent among Russian sports bodies regarding the IOC’s selection process.

The IOC has maintained that its selection criteria are necessary to ensure that the invited athletes do not have any connections to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. However, the RWF and other Russian sports federations argue that these criteria are unfair and undermine the unity and strength of their teams.

As the Paris Olympics approach, the absence of top Russian wrestlers and other athletes will undoubtedly impact the competitions. The RWF’s statement suggests that the Olympic wrestling events will be incomplete without the participation of Russian athletes, and the champions may not feel the same sense of accomplishment.

The IOC’s decision to invite only a select group of Russian and Belarusian athletes as neutrals has been met with mixed reactions. Some athletes and officials have expressed support for the opportunity to compete under these conditions, while others have called for boycotts and criticized the selection process.

The situation remains fluid, and it is unclear whether any of the invited Russian wrestlers will reconsider their decision and choose to compete in Paris. The IOC has yet to provide a detailed response to the RWF’s statement and the broader concerns raised by Russian sports federations.

As the countdown to the Paris Olympics continues, the focus will be on how the absence of Russian athletes will affect the competitions and the overall atmosphere of the Games. The decision by the ten Russian wrestlers to decline their invitations serves as a significant development in the ongoing debate over the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international sporting events amid the geopolitical tensions surrounding the war in Ukraine.

Source: ESPN News Services, UPI, Reuters

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