World Rowing said a limited number of Russian and Belarusian athletes would be allowed back as neutrals ©Getty Images

World Rowing has said it will allow a "limited number" of Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to competition as neutrals.

The governing body said rowers from the two countries would be permitted in certain boat classes at events including the World Championships in Belgrade in September.

Rowers will only be allowed back if they pass a background check to prove they are not associated with Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine.

They will also be subject to an enhanced anti-doping process.

Rowing's decision comes after an International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board recommendation in March, which said that individual Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed to return to competition, if they are not openly in support of the invasion of Ukraine or affiliated to the military.

This rolled back the original IOC stance after Vladimir Putin launched his invasion in February 2022, which called for an outright ban.

Russian and Belarusian rowers will only be allowed back in certain classes ©Getty Images
Russian and Belarusian rowers will only be allowed back in certain classes ©Getty Images

World Rowing said it consulted with its member nations and athletes before its Executive Committee reached the decision.

A working group was created to advise on the conditions needed for athletes to return and has also developed a framework to "allow relevant athletes to compete while ensuring a safe and peaceful competition environment for all athletes".

"Following thorough consultations with our various stakeholders, and with different opinions on this sensitive matter being expressed and discussed in detail, our Executive Committee reached a decision that aligns with our shared principles of inclusion and placing athletes at the centre of our decisions," said World Rowing President Jean-Christophe Rolland, an IOC member and Olympic gold medallist for France.

"It also avoids punishing rowers for the action of their Governments. 

"Facing a highly complex situation, I believe we have found a solution that allows rowing to play its role in building bridges between people and nations."

At the World Championships in Belgrade, Russians and Belarusians will only be able to compete in the single sculls or pairs, with Para and lightweight rowers in singles only.

At the World Under-19 Championships in Paris in August, they will be permitted in every event except the eights and the coxed fours.

Only singles sculls and pairs will be allowed at the World Under-23 Championships in Plovdiv in July.

World Rowing claimed that it would continue its "strong support" for Ukrainian rowing after financial and logistical support was previously provided to help crews forced to relocate abroad.

It reaffirmed its "severe condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and of the support provided by Belarus".

"While protective measures had to be taken in early 2022, the principle of depriving certain athletes - who are not associated with or supporting Russia's invasion of Ukraine - of competing, has constituted a major dilemma for World Rowing since the beginning," the governing body said. 

Russia's rowing President said only a "meagre" number of athletes would be allowed to compete ©Getty Images
Russia's rowing President said only a "meagre" number of athletes would be allowed to compete ©Getty Images

"No-one should be discriminated against on the basis of their passport. 

"World Rowing believes in the importance of sport as a unique mechanism to build bridges between people even where Governments are in conflict."

Russian Rowing Federation President Alexei Svirin told the country's state news agency TASS that a "meagre" amount of athletes would be able to compete.

"It turns out that one or two athletes can perform at the competitions, to whom strict requirements are imposed," he said. 

"It is also not yet clear how their presence at the World Championships will be regulated.

"The final decision on participation will be made by the coaching staff and athletes, who themselves must decide whether they are ready to participate in this story."