Russian athletes, teams officials who have been banned from international sporting events because of the war in Ukraine are being protected rather than punished, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has said.
Most sports bodies have followed the IOC guidance given on February 28 -- four days after Russia began its invasion -- by removing teams and athletes from their international competitions.
Russia's soccer federation is challenging the decision to ban their national and clubs sides at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and Bach's view may be echoed by defence lawyers.
"Let me emphasise again that these are protective measures, not sanctions. Measures to protect the integrity of competitions," Bach told IOC members in an online meeting on Friday.
"The safety of the Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials could not be guaranteed because of the deep anti-Russian and anti-Belarusian feelings in so many countries following the invasion."
Sanctions should only apply to "those responsible for something," Bach said, explaining why the IOC withdrew its Olympic Order honour from Russian officials -- though he did not name Russian President Vladimir Putin -- and advised sports to relocate events that Russia was to host.
The severity of the reaction to Russia and Belarus has provoked questions -- including to soccer's governing body FIFA -- of why other countries which waged wars and even genocides had not previously faced the same isolation.
"The war in Ukraine is different because it is a blatant violation of the Olympic Truce," Bach said of the modern revival of an ancient tradition to pause hostilities and give athletes safe passage before and after an Olympics.
Weeks before the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February, United Nations member states, including Russia, approved a truce document to last until mid-March, after the Winter Paralympics.
Putin was in Beijing for the opening ceremony when Russia had already placed thousands of soldiers near the Ukraine border.
Russia's breach of the truce was its third in 14 years. There was a military conflict with neighbouring Georgia on the eve of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the country annexed Ukrainian territory in Crimea soon after hosting the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Bach also justified the reaction to ban Russian athletes by saying "far-reaching political, social and economic consequences of the war make it a turning point in world history."
Bach distanced himself from Putin, with whom he was publicly close around the Sochi Olympics. Those Winter Games were marred by a state-backed doping program in Russia.
"(The IOC's) relationship with the Russian political leadership has dramatically deteriorated over the past years," Bach said, citing the doping scandal, cyberattacks by Russian hackers and "even personal threats to individuals," which he did not specify.
In recent weeks, Russian athletes who made public gestures supporting the war have been banned from international competitions in gymnastics and swimming.
"We are monitoring closely who is supporting this war with their statements or actions," Bach said. "We have drawn and will draw necessary (conclusions)."
Bach did not say if Russian teams, athletes and officials will be banned from the 2024 Paris Olympics, but he noted there would be "a time to rebuild bridges" through sport.
Australian Associated Press
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