The Russian and Belarusian wrestlers at the 2023 World Wrestling Championships competed as “individual neutral athletes” at the Stark Arena in Belgrade, Serbia.

2023 World Wrestling Championships

Following the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) ruling, Russian and Belarusian athletes, who were not allowed to compete under their national flag or wear their national insignia, competed at the World Wrestling Championships under the designation of “individual neutral athletes.”

Despite these limitations,  the estranged wrestlers continued to participate in the World Wrestling Championships that took place from September 16 to 24, 2023, intent on making their dreams a reality. The athletes competed in three distinct disciplines: men’s freestyle, women’s freestyle, and men’s Greco-Roman.

To date, the ‘individual neutral athletes’ have won six medals at the event, the most noteworthy of which are the gold medals won by two Russian athletes in the men’s freestyle event. Akmed Usmanov and  Zaurbek Sidakov who both placed first in the 79 kg and 74 kg weight divisions, respectively.

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On the other hand, Abasgadzhi Magomedov clinched silver in the men’s freestyle at 61 kg, while Shamil Mamedov got bronze in the 65 kg weight division. In addition, Vanesa Kaladzinskaya, the only woman and Belarusian who snared a medal, also placed second and took home the silver in the women’s wrestling 53 kg weight class.

And, finally, Aues Gonibov won in the Greco-Roman 82 kg wrestling discipline, taking home the bronze medal.

Wrestlers’ Crisis

Ever since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, the two countries, Russia and Belarus, have been largely sidelined in the sports world. The two countries are now suffering international sanctions, with their athletes taking the most hit.

The decision to impose sanctions was endorsed by 35 representatives of various nations, including Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who reported the tragic deaths of 228 athletes and their coaches due to the war initiated by Russia.

“If there’s an Olympics sport with killings and missile strikes, you know which national team would take the first place,” he told the ministers. “Terror and Olympism are two opposites, they cannot be combined.”

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For the Russian and Belarusian athletes and wrestlers, this was considered a huge blow to their careers. They were exiled from competitions because they were part of the nation that instigated a war.

Around 67 Russian athletes changed their citizenship just so they could compete freely in the international arena.

The athletes’ participation was also blocked at the upcoming Hangzhou Asian Games, another Olympic-qualifying event. In a brief statement to The Indian Express, the IOC prohibited their participation in the event due to “technical reasons.”

“The concept of the participation of athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports at the Asian Games 2023 was explored as discussed at the Olympic Summit in December 2022, but was not feasible due to technical reasons.”

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The photo above is from Wikipedia