The NOCRB Athletes' Forum was attended by more than 200 representatives of Russia and Belarus ©NOCRB

More than 200 individuals took part in the National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Belarus' (NOCRB) Athletes' Forum, which also featured Russian representation and provided views on both countries' status in international sport.

Russia and Belarus have been largely excluded from international competitions since the start of the war in Ukraine, although the International Olympic Committee (IOC) controversially lifted its recommendations last month to allow their athletes to compete as neutrals provided they do not support the conflict and are not affiliated to the military.

Critics argue there should be no place for either country in international sport while the war is ongoing, and Ukraine has threatened to boycott Paris 2024 Olympic qualifiers where their athletes are taking part.

International Federations have been divided in their responses to the updated IOC recommendations.

Russian and Belarusian athletes at the Forum expressed their belief that the IOC's measures are unfair.

Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) Athletes' Commission deputy chair Lada Zadonskaya claimed it was discriminatory to exclude athletes.

"We believe that the conditions for the return of our athletes to the international arena, imposed by the IOC in late March 2023, are discriminatory," she said.

"The motto of the Olympic Movement has recently been made 'Faster, Higher, Stronger, Together'.

"For some reason the thesis 'together' ceased to have any relevance in respect to us.

"Athletes, who have not violated anything, cannot take part in qualifying competitions, or in any other international competitions this season.

"This is discrimination and double standards."

NOCRB Athletes' Commission deputy chair Liudmila Kalinchik said "we welcome the IOC's recommendations to return the Belarusians and Russians to major competitions", but it would wait for all International Federations to make decisions on their stances before "making our plans".

The IOC has recommended a continued ban on Russian and Belarusian national symbols.

Belarus' three-times Olympic canoe sprint medallist Maryna Litvinchuk said she hopes for "all our national symbols to be present at the Olympics in Paris", but vowed that regardless of the IOC's decision "everyone will know where we are from and what country we represent".

The NOCRB has avoided suspension by the IOC despite concerns over dissident athletes' safety pre-dating the war in Ukraine ©Getty Images
The NOCRB has avoided suspension by the IOC despite concerns over dissident athletes' safety pre-dating the war in Ukraine ©Getty Images

The IOC has stressed that it has not taken a final decision on Russian and Belarusian involvement at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

It has claimed its stance has "found some middle ground", and blasted criticism from European Governments opposed to its stance as "deplorable".

Before Belarus' assistive role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there had long been concerns over the safety of opponents to the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko, including athletes.

The NOCRB, formerly led by Lukashenko and now with his son Viktor Lukashenko as President in an election not recognised by the IOC, has faced several sanctions for failing to protect athletes from political discrimination, but has avoided suspension.

Russian athletes were allowed to compete under their own flag despite revelations of the state-sponsored doping scandal at the Rio 2016 Olympics, although 111 were deemed ineligible by International Federations in what amounted to a partial ban.

They then competed under the Olympic Athletes of Russia banner at Pyeongchang 2018 after the suspension of the ROC, and under the ROC flag at Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 because of World Anti-Doping Agency sanctions.