Swimming sets 'strict' rules for Russian return


Individual Russian swimmers will be allowed to compete in international events, including the Paris Olympics, if they meet a set of "strict criteria", the sport's governing body says.

World Aquatics published its criteria on Monday for Russian and Belarusian athletes, coaches and officials to return to competition as neutrals after being banned because of their countries' war in Ukraine.

The criteria follow the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) guidelines that only individual athletes from Russia and Belarus, no teams, can be allowed to compete in Paris, and that they must not have shown any public support for the war.

World Aquatics said only one Russian and Belarusian athlete will be allowed to enter in each swimming and diving event.

They cannot take part in any relays, artistic swimming, synchronised diving, or water polo.

The governing body has appointed a panel to vet athletes, coaches and officials to make sure they have not shown any support for the war - such as statements, social media posts or taking part in pro-war demonstrations - since the invasion started in February 2022.

That could bar swimmer Evgeny Rylov, a double gold medallist at the Tokyo Olympics, who was suspended last year for wearing the controversial 'Z' symbol at a pro-war rally in Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

Individual athletes still have to qualify for the Olympics in order to compete in Paris next summer.

Main events on the swim calendar before then include three World Cup meets in October - in Berlin, Athens and Budapest - and the 2024 aquatics world championships next February in Doha, Qatar.

Russian and Belarusian flags and anthems will not be allowed and approved athletes and support staff must wear all-white uniforms and equipment, World Aquatics said.

"They will also not be allowed to give any interviews to media during such competitions," the world swim body said, also barring athletes from news conferences and post-race mixed zones where journalists can ask questions.

World Aquatics is the latest Olympic sports body to detail its response to the IOC's advice to find a way for neutral Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to competition.

Within days of the war starting, the IOC urged sports to exclude Russia from world sports but that advice changed in December despite Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskiy urging a full exclusion of Russia.

Track and field's World Athletics has taken the strongest stance in continuing to ban Russians, while the country's athletes are unlikely to return in other Olympic sports until next year.

World Aquatics also put limits on how Russians and Belarusians can try to qualify for the main competitions, including undergoing four doping controls by recognised anti-doping agencies in the year prior to applying for neutral status.

Any qualifying time or performance also must be achieved at a competition held outside Russia and Belarus.

Swimmers and divers who show "discriminatory behaviour" toward their Russian and Belarusian opponents will face disciplinary action, World Aquatics said.