2024 Olympic Games Watch Party

Will Russian Wrestlers Compete At The 2024 Paris Olympic Games

Will Russian Wrestlers Compete At The 2024 Paris Olympic Games

Questions remain regarding the participation of Russian wrestlers at the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

May 22, 2024 by Andrew Spey
Will Russian Wrestlers Compete At The 2024 Paris Olympic Games

Olympic founder Pierre de Coubertin summed up the Olympic spirit when he stated, "The important thing is not to win, but to take part." The Games exist not to divide, but to bring people together. 

Unfortunately for the immortal wishes of de Coubertin and the Olympic movement, politics, like an obnoxious party crasher, have a way of disrupting sporting events. Even sporting events with noble intentions, and especially sporting events hosted by international organizations that invite sovereign nations to send representatives to a high-profile quadrennial global festival. 

Case in point, the propaganda laden 1936 Olympics held in Nazi Germany or the boycotted Olympics of 1980 and 1984. The upcoming 33rd Olympiad has also proven susceptible to fallout from geopolitics, as Russia and Belarus' invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022 has had serious ramifications for the 2024 Paris Olympics. 

Will There Be Any Russian Or Belarusian Athletes At The Paris Olympics?

One of the immediate consequences of the war is that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) kicked the Russian and Belarusian Olympic Committees out of the Olympic movement. The IOC later added provisions to allow athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports to compete as Individual Neutral Athletes. 

So the short answer to the question, yes, mostly like there will be Russian and Belarusian athletes in Paris, though you should expect to see far fewer than usual. 

The IOC official ruling can be found here, which not only provides details about the ban but also explains how and why the ban was enacted.

What Does The IOC Ruling On Russian And Belarusian Athletes Entail?

To summarize:

  • All teams are banned. No basketball, water polo, synchronized swimming, doubles tennis, etc. 
  • Flags, colors, anthems, basically anything identifying either country are banned. 
  • No officials or dignitaries from Russia and Belarus will be welcome at the Games.
  • "Strict eligibility conditions" for individuals to compete as neutral athletes. 
  • Specifically, individual athletes must not be part of the Russian or Belarusian military, nor can they "actively support the war".
  • Additional PED testing administered by WADA

Which Russian And Belarusian Athletes Have Qualified For Paris?

So far just 28 Belarusians and 26 Russians have qualified to compete at the 2024 Summer Games in 10 different sports, however, it's possible for about twice as many Russian athletes to eventually qualify. 

That would still be a far cry from the 335 Russians who competed in 30 sports at the Tokyo Games, or the 455 Russians who competed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the most in Russian Olympic history.

Notably, more Russian and Belarusian wrestlers have qualified for Paris so far than any other sport in either gender. 

Russia is also historically the most successful nation in the world in men's freestyle wrestling, and they have qualified the maximum six weights. The individual athletes from Russia expected to compete in men's freestyle wrestling in Paris are the following: 

  • 57kg Zaur Uguev
  • 65kg Shamil Mamedov
  • 74kg Zaurbek Sidakov
  • 86kg Artur Naifonov
  • 97kg Alikhan Zhabrailov
  • 125kg Abdulla Kurbanov

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Will Abdulrashid Sadulaev Wrestle In Paris?

I see you noticed that two-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champ Sadulaev is absent from the list of expected competitors. That is because evidence was provided to UWW showing that Sadulaev was actively supporting Russia's war in Ukraine, and he was thus deemed ineligible to compete at the European Olympic Qualifier in April of 2024. 

Since Sadulaev did not meet the strict eligibility conditions laid out by the IOC in April, it would stand to reason that Sadulaev would still be ineligible by the morning of August 10th, when the 97kg Olympic men's freestyles are due to weigh-in. 

However, a precedent may have been set that provides Sadulaev with a viable path to Paris.

In May of 2023, two Russian 202 Olympic gold medalists in taekwondo, Maksim Khramtsov and Vladislav Larin, were ruled ineligible due to their apparent support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, those two athletes were later cleared to compete in August of 2023 because, in the words of World Taekwondo, the sport's international governing body, "The three-month probation period for the sanctions which were imposed on these athletes in May have not been extended and will conclude on 31 August 2023. The Review Committee therefore approved for these athletes to compete subject to new evidence being reported."

If Sadulaev were to get the same treatment, and no new evidence of Sadulaev actively supporting the war emerges between now and the Olympics, he could similarly be ruled to have served a three-month suspension and be cleared to compete. 

And for what it's worth, on May 11, Sadulaev said:

My heart tells me that I will compete at the Olympics in Paris.

We will see if Sadulaev's heart was telling him the truth soon enough!

Why Is There So Much Uncertainty Regarding All Of This? 

Because all of this is new and unique. No one anticipated a situation like this so it's not like the IOC can just consult the rulebook.   

This is not to say that the IOC is completely making everything up as they go. Armenia and Azerbaijan were in a similar situation, where no athletes involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict were eligible to compete in Olympic sports. South Africa was also not welcome at Olympic Games from 1964 to 1988 due to their policy of Apartheid. It's not wholly uncharted waters we're wading through. 

I Still Think What The IOC Is Doing Is Wrong

You are not alone! 

The IOC's policies are a compromise, and compromises will leave all parties less than completely satisfied. Disagreements and 'whataboutisms' are to be expected.

To make better sense of the current policy, I'd suggest looking at the situation from the IOC's point of view. It's their quadrennial sporting bonanza, and they are free to invite, or not invite, whoever they please. If you are a country that wants to partake in their festivities, it's in your best interest not to wage a war of conquest against another nation in good standing with the organization sending out the invites. 

The IOC spells out its philosophy in much greater detail in the Olympic Charter, which you can read in its entirety here

Actually, I Think Russia Should Be Banned For Their PED Use

This is also not an uncommon thought!

Russia has been noncompliant with WADA since around 2016 when a state-sponsored doping program was exposed. Russia denies the existence of the program despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, as seen in the Netflix documentary, Icarus, which I strongly recommend everyone watch. 

Due to the massive amount of cheating discovered dating back to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and before, Russian athletes since 2018 have had to compete as "Olympic Athletes from Russia" or under the banner of the "Russian Olympic Committee".

The point is there are two separate, overlapping issues that Russia is dealing with; its non-compliance with the World Anti-Doping Agency, and its sanctions stemming from its war with Ukraine. 

Anyway, not to get on an editorial tangent but Vladimir Putin and the Russian government are unequivocally very bad.

What Other Russian Or Belarusian Athletes Won't Be At The Paris Games? 

I can barely keep up with wrestling, so you may want to consult other subject matter experts for other sports, however, some cursory research did yield some interesting information.

For starters, no Russians or Belarusians will compete in Track and Field events (known confusingly by the IOC as simply 'Athletics'). World Athletics, the sport's international governing body, suspended all Russian and Belarusian athletes early in 2022 and have not relented

Additionally, it doesn't look like any Russian swimmers will be in Paris. World Aquatics (the international governing body for that sport) has allowed Russians to apply for Neutral Individual Athletes status, however, they only received one applicant who later withdrew his application

There will be some Belarusian swimmers competing as neutral athletes, though, just not in any of the relay races. 

You also shouldn't expect any Russian gymnasts, due to a combination of a stern international governing body and uncooperative Russian athletes

That's about all the research I did for this wrestling blog, though those three sports are usually at the top of the list of total number of participants. The IOC allows each sport to handle this issue as they see fit, so similar patterns are likely playing out with other international governing bodies.

Is It Possible Russia Doesn't Compete In The Olympics At All?

Anything is possible my friend! This article at least seems to think that it's a distinct possibility. 

There are also the words of Mikhail Mamiashvili, president of the Russian Wrestling Federation, after the World Olympic Qualifier, that last qualifying event in wrestling which saw Russia secure 16 of 18 possible bids to the Paris Games. 

The main task that stood before our team has, in fact, been completed - we continue to prepare for the Olympic Games. But until we see the protocol, a clear set of rules, under what conditions we will be invited to compete in Paris, we will not announce our final decision. Today we have the opportunity to nominate 16 wrestlers for the Olympic Games - and we are preparing.

Granted, those words were transcribed in Russian and then run through Google Translate. Additionally, I believe Mamiashvili could be speaking more to the fact that they are waiting on a potential change to the eligibility of Sadulaev rather than contemplating not attending the Olympics at all. 

Then there's the matter of the World Friendship Games, a hastily assembled international sporting event to be held in Russia in September of 2024. This new creation will be held outside the jurisdiction of the IOC and WADA, and naturally, neither organization is thrilled about its prospects

Could the Friendship Games be a face-saving cover for an aging despot? Might Putin play the victim card, claim Russia is being treated unfairly, take his proverbial ball, and go home? After all, what good are the Olympics for an autocrat if the meager medal haul is insufficient for propaganda?

The Bottom Line 

We could see several dozen Russian athletes at the 2024 Olympics, including 16 wrestlers. It is also still possible we see Sadulaev wrestle in Paris. But we won't see a full contingent of Russians, and we won't see them compete in any team sports. There is also a non-zero chance we don't see any Russians compete at all. 

Unfortunately, there's not much we know for sure, and all we can do right now is speculate. However, the Olympics are not far off so we'll find out all the answers soon enough!