USOPC says any Russian, Belarusian participation in 2024 would have to be as neutrals

NEW YORK, Dec 12 (Reuters) - The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) endorsed exploring the possibility of Russian and Belarusian athletes featuring in the 2024 Games on Monday, but said they must do so strictly as neutral competitors.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued guidance to sports bodies in February to remove Russian and Belarusian athletes from competition following the invasion of Ukraine.

The IOC has no immediate plans to lift that.

At the time of the IOC's recommendation, the Russian Olympic Committee said it categorically disagreed with the move, saying it "contradicts both the regulatory documents of the IOC and the (Olympic) Charter."

As the qualifying process for the Paris Games kicks into gear next year, IOC President Thomas Bach said there was no date set for a final decision on whether their athletes could compete in the Games.

"What (the Olympic Summit) endorsed was for the IOC to now engage in conversation with all stakeholders to see whether there could be a pathway back," said USOPC Chair Susanne Lyons, in reference to last week's meeting of major stakeholders in the Olympic movement.

"We agreed that there would now be an exploration and a consultation with stakeholders to see whether there could be a pathway for those individual athletes to come back as neutral," she added.

Lyons, whose nation is a major player in the Olympics, said Russian and Belarusian competitors' participation hinged on their competing as true neutrals with no display of flags, anthems or national colors.

Russian Olympians competed as neutral athletes in Beijing, Tokyo and Pyeongchang because of doping sanctions.

"That was a little loosey goosey last time," said Lyons, who will hand the reins to former Los Angeles 2028 CEO Gene Sykes beginning Jan. 1, 2023, as her term expires.

"And I think everyone at the Olympic Summit was very clear that there's only a pathway back for these individual athletes if they're competing both clean and neutral in every possible way."

The IOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.