Sports Law- Understanding the Rules on the Participation of Neutral Athletes in International Sporting Events

In March 2021 the World Athrletics reinstated the Authorised Neutral Athlete (ANA) programme. On the 30th of April, it announced the approval of the applications of four Russian athletes to compete in international competition as neutral athletes in 2021 under Rule 3.2 of the Eligibility Rules. The four Russians namely Mariya Lasitskene (High Jump), Anzhelika Sidorova (Pole Vault),Ilia Ivaniuk (High Jump), Aksana Gataullina (Pole Vault) accordingly met the exceptional eligibility criteria for 2021.

These players will be able to compete in International events while the Russian national federation (RusAF) remains suspended.

World Athletics, suspended RusAF’s membership in November 2015, following a wave of anti-doping rules violations. However in 2017 it began to allow clean athletes from Russia to participate in international tournaments under the neutral status or the Authorized Neutral Athlete (ANA) until the membership of the RusAF is reinstated.

Under rule 3.1.1 of the World Athletics eligibility rules, any athlete whose member Federation is currently suspended by World Athletics is ineligible for International and domestic competitions.

However rule 3.2 provides that upon application, the council may exceptionally grant eligibility for some or all International competitions under conditions defined by the council to an athlete whose member Federation is currently suspended by World Athletics, if the athlete is able to demonstrate to the comfortable satisfaction of the Council that: the suspension of the Member Federation was not due in any way to its failure to protect and promote clean athletes, fair play, and the integrity and authenticity of the sport; or 3.2.2 if the suspension of the Member Federation was due in any way to its failure to put in place adequate systems to protect and promote clean athletes, fair play, and the integrity and authenticity of the sport.

a. the athlete is not directly implicated in any way (knowingly or unknowingly) by that failure; and

b. they have been subject to other, fully adequate, systems (including fully WADA Code-compliant drug-testing) for a sufficiently long period to provide substantial objective assurance of integrity; or

3.2.3. the athlete has made a truly exceptional contribution to the protection and promotion of clean athletes, fair play, and the integrity and authenticity of the sport.

So when that eligibility is granted under the above rule, the athlete becomes an Authorised Neutral Athlete.

What are the effects of participating as an Authorised Neutral Athlete?

The most significant effect is that where eligibility is granted to an athlete under the Authorised Neutral Athlete programme, the athlete shall not represent the suspended member Federation in the international competition(s) in question but shall compete in an individual capacity as a “Neutral Athlete”. In other words, the athlete will not represent any country in the competition.

Athletes who have been granted Neutral Athlete Status are subject to all World Athletics competition Rules and Regulations, however due to their status, the following specific rules provided in the different rules and regulations of World Athletics apply to them.

Neutral Athletes may only apply to compete in individual events. World Athletics may accept up to three Neutral Athletes in each event on condition that they are qualified. If more than three Neutral Athletes achieve the entry standard, the three who have achieved the best qualifying performance will be accepted.
World Athletics will confirm the participation of all Neutral Athletes in writing having first verified their qualification status. In confirming the participation of any Neutral Athlete,World Athletics may impose such conditions on their participation as it sees fit including but not limited to the signature of a Neutral Athlete Agreement.

To assist in the registration of Neutral Athletes, World Athletics may designate a single person who shall be known as Neutral Athlete Liaison to act on behalf of all Neutral Athletes seeking to participate from the same suspended member i.e Country. Each Neutral Athlete is entitled to be accompanied by one person who is accredited for the period of the World Athletics Championships and may also apply for one Personal Coach Package (as described in the M Circular letter) for an additional person.
At all Competitions under paragraphs 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.6 and 1.7 of the International Competition definition, Neutral Athletes shall participate in the uniform clothing approved by World Athletics. Neutral Athletes may participate in the competition and related ceremonies in any neutral uniform of their choice provided that it conforms to World Athletics Rules and Regulations. However, all Neutral Athletes must bring their team uniform to the accreditation centre for Inspection, during the accreditation procedures and shall abide by any direction or ruling by Chief Executive Officer in their discretion at any time concerning the uniform to be worn.

The participation of Neutral Athletes and their accompanying persons at the Opening Ceremony shall be at the specific direction of World Athletics in consultation with the LOC. Neutral Athletes shall be represented at the Opening Ceremony by: a. A placard bearing the name ‘Neutral Athletes’ and/or ‘ANA’ b. The World Athletics flag or such other neutral flag as World Athletics may so direct.
Both placard and flag shall be paraded into the Opening Ceremony venue in a way and at a time to be proposed by the LOC.

  1. If a Neutral Athlete is the first placed athlete in an event, the World Athletics anthem shall be played instead of the anthem of the Neutral Athlete’s country.
  2. The display, by Neutral Athletes, of the national colours, flag, name (in any language or format) national emblem or other national symbol of a suspended Federation is prohibited. This is expanded to mean that No national colours, flag, name (in any language or format) national emblem or other national symbol of the country of the Neutral Athlete shall appear on their body (including without limitation; hair colouring, skin colouring, tattoos, jewelry, hair shaving and nail varnishes), apparel (including without limitation clothing, jewelry, hairbands, shoes and bags ), equipment or medical supports (including without limitation bandages and tapes) at any time whilst in the Host City or in the vicinity of any venue associated with the event, including but not limited to the competition venue, Warm-up Area, Call Room, training grounds and hotels. The national anthem of the country of the Neutral Athlete shall not be played or sung at any time within the vicinity of any venue associated with the event including but not limited to the competition venue, warm-up area, call room, training grounds and hotels. No flags, banners or posters bearing the national colours, name or flag of the country of the Neutral Athlete shall be taken into the vicinity of any venue associated with the event, including but not limited to the competition venue, warm-up area, call room, training grounds and hotels.

Anthony Atata is a Sports Lawyer


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  1. Please sir I would really love to reach out to you but unfortunately, there’s no contact information displayed.

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