PARIS: The Badminton World Federation (BWF) will consider allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals in international competitions, the sport’s governing body said on Wednesday, a month after they had extended the ban. The BWF first banned Russian and Belarusian athletes in March last year after Russia invaded Ukraine. Belarus is being used as a key staging ground for Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow terms a “special operation”. Last month the BWF said there was no “satisfactory justification” to lift the suspension on players and officials from the two countries when it extended the ban. However, it has now changed its stance and could potentially align itself with the International Olympic Committee’s recommendations to allow athletes from both countries to return to competition as neutrals. “The guiding principle for BWF is that athletes should always be allowed to participate in sport competitions without judgement of their passport and separate of any geo-political conflict outside the control of the sports movement,” it said. “Therefore, a regulative and operational framework to allow athletes with Russian and Belarusian passports to compete as individual neutral athletes has been commissioned to be presented to Council at its next meeting in August. “BWF Council will then deliberate on the merits of the principles, framework and timeline to potentially lift the suspension of Russian and Belarusian athletes.” The Council is set to convene in Copenhagen on the sidelines of the World Championships which will be held from Aug. 21-27. Qualification for next year’s Olympics in Paris will be based on results achieved in badminton tournaments between May 1, 2023 and April 28, 2024. While several Olympic sports federations have allowed athletes from Russia and Belarus to return to international competition, major bodies like World Athletics have excluded their athletes for the foreseeable future due to the war.