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Cases of Olympians competing under neutral flag

Athletes from Russia will compete at the 2018 Olympics under a neutral flag

MOSCOW, February 8. /TASS/. The team of Olympic athletes from Russia will compete at the Olympic Games in South Korea’s PyeongChang on February 9-25, 2018 under a neutral flag.

Neutral (Olympic) flag

A neutral (Olympic) flag is a white banner with the Olympic symbol placed in the center and consisting of five interlaced rings colored blue, yellow, black, green and red and symbolizing the unity of five continents. Athletes have the right to compete under a neutral flag, if the National Olympic Committee of the country they represent is suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or is at the stage of its formation, and also in some other cases. Previously, athletes from India (2014) and Kuwait (2016) competed under a neutral flag as the IOC suspended the membership of their National Olympic Committees. 

Athletes competed under the Olympic flag for the first time in Moscow in 1980. Some athletes made attempts before to compete under the Olympic banner for political motives, as a rule, but the IOC rejected their requests.

1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow

The 22nd Summer Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980 were boycotted by the United States, Canada, Germany and some other 50 states after the Soviet Union sent its troops to Afghanistan in 1979. The athletes from these countries did not come to the Moscow 1980 Olympics. Athletes from Australia, Andorra, Belgium, Great Britain, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, San Marino, France and Switzerland took part in the Summer Olympics but competed under the Olympic flag.

Athletes from Spain, New Zealand and Portugal also came to Moscow but competed under the flags of the National Olympic Committees rather than of their countries. The athletes who competed under the Olympic flag and won the gold medals were Italian judoka Ezio Gamba (the chief coach and manager of the Russian judo team since 2008), UK runner Sebastian Coe (the president of the International Association of Athletic Federations since 2015) and others.

Albertville 1992 Winter Olympics

After the disintegration of the USSR, athletes from six former Soviet republics - Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine - competed in February 1992 as the united team under the Olympic flag at the 26th Winter Olympics in Albertville (France). The team was officially called the United Team while its participants were not considered as neutral athletes, even though they competed under a neutral flag. The United Team won nine gold medals and was second only to Germany, which claimed ten golds.

Barcelona 1992 Summer Olympics

After the disintegration of the USSR, representatives of former Soviet republics (except for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) competed in July - August 1992 as a single team under the Olympic flag at the 25th Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona (Spain). The united team of 12 states won 45 gold medals and came first in medal standings.

Due to the UN’s international sanctions against the former Yugoslavia, a total of 58 athletes in 13 sports disciplines from that country and also from the Republic of Macedonia competed at the Olympic Games in Barcelona under the Olympic flag.

The athletes of this team were called Independent Olympic Participants (IOP) to distinguish them from the united team of the former Soviet republics.

Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics

In 2000, East Timor was in the process of gaining independence from Indonesia (it was proclaimed on May 20, 2002) and did not have its National Olympic Committee. Nevertheless, four athletes from that country were allowed to perform at the 27th Summer Olympic Games in Sidney (Australia) under the Olympic flag.

London 2012 Summer Olympics

On October 10, 2010, Antilles, an autonomy within the Netherlands, ceased to exist as a result of constitutional reform, which gave rise to the self-governed state entities of Curacao and Sint Maarten, and also the communities of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (all of them within the Netherlands).

The Olympic Committee of the Netherlands Antilles was withdrawn from the IOC membership in July 2011. The athletes who qualified for the 30th Summer Olympics in London in 2012 were granted the right to compete under the Olympic flag or as representatives of the Netherlands or Aruba. As a result, the former Netherlands Antilles sent a team of three athletes under the Olympic flag.

Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

Athletes from India initially entered the competition at the 22nd Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 under the Olympic flag as India’s Olympic Association had been suspended by the IOC since December 2012. The suspension came after the Association elected its members on the basis of the sports code approved by India’s government, which was a violation of the IOC’s rules on the autonomy of Olympic organizations and the non-interference of government bodies in their work.

On February 8 and 9, only luger Shivan Keshavan competed under a neutral flag. However, already on February 11 the International Olympic Committee reinstated India’s Olympic Association, following which Indian athletes gained the right to compete under the flag of their country.

Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympics

A special team of refugees performed at the 31st Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) in 2016 under the Olympic flag. It comprised ten athletes from four countries - South Sudan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. Six men and four women took part in track and field competitions, swimming and judo but none of them showed high results.

Also, nine athletes from Kuwait competed in the shooting, swimming and fencing events under the Olympic flag at the Rio Olympics. In October 2015, the IOC suspended the Kuwaiti Olympic Committee over the government’s interference in its work. Two Kuwaiti athletes who competed under the Olympic flag became medalists of the Rio Olympics in the shooting competition: Fehaid Al-Deehani won gold in the double trap shooting event while Abdullah Al-Rashidi grabbed bronze in the men’s skeet competition.