Russian and Belarussian athletes will be allowed to compete in international events as Individual Neutral Athletes, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) announced Wednesday.
The decision is a reversal of a prior ban on international competition for athletes from both countries, which was implemented after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Teams from Russia and Belarus are still banned from all competition.
Athletes will need to apply for Individual Neutral Athlete status with the UCI and will still be forbidden from displaying visible markers of their home country, including flags.
The UCI has put a number of requirements in place for any athlete seeking such status. An athlete must have no contractual or other links with the armies of either nation or with any state security agency. They cannot “associate in any way with flags, emblems, anthems, or any other symbols” of their country, and must not show any active support for the war. If strictly enforced, these stipulations could make some of the riders flouting the no-flag rule ineligible for the Neutral Athlete designation.
The UCI’s decision mirrors a similar move from the International Olympic Committee, which was announced March 28. In a statement, the IOC pushed International Federations like the UCI to allow individual athletes in international competition once again. The UCI has obliged.
Clearing Russian and Belarussian athletes to ride in the world championships, world cups, and other international cycling events does not extend to their participation in the Olympics, at least for now. The IOC’s March 28 statement makes it clear that decisions around Olympic participation will occur “at the appropriate time.” That time, it stands to reason, is not now.
In its press release, the UCI reiterated its support for Ukrainian athletes and announced a 100,000 Swiss franc contribution to the Ukrainian federation. It also reiterated its own political neutrality. The remainder of the sanctions first implemented in March of 2022 were upheld, including a ban on Russian and Belarussian teams, a ban on either country hosting international competition, a ban on flags and anthems from both nations, a ban on sponsorship by Russian or Belarusian companies (with a small window for exceptions), and an allowance that any athlete with dual nationality as of March 2022 to change that sporting nationality without restrictions.