As the war in Ukraine rages on, sporting sanctions against Russia and Belarus (Russia's primary ally in the war) continue to be enforced worldwide. The IOC has reaffirmed that while Russian and Belarusian athletes will be able to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympics, "No flag, anthem, colours, or any other identifications whatsoever of these countries" will be allowed, with athletes instead competing under a neutral banner.
Russia, with the support of China, is increasingly pursuing alternatives. At a recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (comprising Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and the former Soviet states Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin suggested Russia as a host of the inaugural SCO games, which are seen as an Olympic alternative, though no details of size or location have been determined. Together the SCO nations (along with nations such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with whom they have informal ties) govern over half the world's population.
"We propose to consider Russia as a possible country to host the SCO games," Matytsin said in a Russian Sports Ministry statement.
"Sports cooperation in the SCO region has a rich potential and develops in the spirit of true partnership, mutual respect, and absence of any form of discrimination.
"Our common task is to ensure that athletes and major international competitions do not become the object of political games. This is possible only on conditions of equality and respect among all participants.
"I propose to counteract these destructive trends and jointly form common legal and political mechanisms to protect the rights of athletes in the SCO region."
If Russia hosts the games it will put SCO countries in a difficult position, as the IOC has prohibited member national organisations from participating in any competition in Russia or Belarus; doing so could invite an Olympic ban.
The IOC has faced intense criticism for its decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at all, albeit under a neutral banner, with 35 countries including Ireland, the U.S., and Olympics host France releasing statements demanding their total exclusion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping released a joint statement welcoming the policy earlier this week at the conclusion of Xi's three-day visit to Moscow.
"The parties welcome the relevant initiatives and decisions of the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), which jointly uphold Olympic values."
"The parties oppose the politicisation of sports, and hope to use the unique role of physical culture and sports to promote solidarity and peace."
Russia has not competed at the Olympics under its own flag since 2016, when widespread state-directed doping was exposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency. In 2018 athletes competed as "Olympic Athletes from Russia" and in 2021 and 2022 as delegations from the Russian Olympic Committee.