The World Friendship Games are scheduled to take place in Moscow and Yekaterinburg from September 15 to September 29, 2024, featuring competitions in 27 sports, including basketball, boxing, athletics, swimming, gymnastics, beach soccer, sports programming, and even acrobatic rock and roll.

The estimated cost for the World Friendship Games is over 8 billion rubles (90 million pounds). About 10,000 athletes from 137 countries may participate, receiving a total prize fund of 4.6 billion rubles (50 million pounds).

The games will be held in Moscow and Yekaterinburg, the capital of the Urals, according to the decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The World Friendship Games, which might include a parade in Red Square, will now be held every four years.

The aim of the games is to ensure the "free participation of Russian athletes" in the competitions and the development of "new formats of international sports cooperation," the decree states.

The government has already commissioned the creation of an organizing committee, which will have a two-month window next year to present the plan of competitions.

Approximately 20 Olympic and 10 non-Olympic disciplines are expected to be contested, while the rest of the sports that will award medals are still under discussion.

The Soviet Union launched the Friendship Games in Moscow in 1984 after they had boycotted the Olympic Games in Los Angeles earlier that year ©ROC
The Soviet Union launched the Friendship Games in Moscow in 1984 after they had boycotted the Olympic Games in Los Angeles earlier that year ©ROC

For the first and only time, competitions with this name were held in 1984 in the countries of the socialist camp: the USSR, Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, Cuba, North Korea, Mongolia, Poland, and Czechoslovakia. Each of these states boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics, which ended two weeks before the start of the Friendship Games.

As of now, the official position then was: "The Friendship Games are not an alternative to the Olympic Games." Competitions were held in all Olympic sports, except for football, as well as in three non-Olympic sports - sambo, table tennis, and tennis.

Athletes from more than 50 countries participated in the Druzhba-84 competitions. The victory was won by the USSR national team, having won 126 gold medals, followed by the German Democratic Republic with 50.

Many media outlets of the time compared the results of the Friendship Games with the Olympic Games. Athletes from the eastern bloc surpassed the Olympic winners in 20 of the 41 athletics events.

The head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, reacted negatively to the idea of organizing the 2024 Friendship Games. He said that “the Russian government was going to hold politicized competitions”.

“The Russian government accuses us of not maintaining political neutrality. At the same time, this same government is trying to organize a completely politicized sporting event,” said Bach.

The head of the organizing committee of the Friendship Games, Alexei Sorokin, does not believe that these competitions can replace the Olympics. According to him, world sport lives in new realities that require new formats.

“We feel a request for competitions, where there is no place for discrimination and slogans. There was an association of friendship and Friendship Games. This is not an alternative to international competitions, this is a powerful addition with a significant prize pool. We do not plan to build new infrastructure; we will be based on excellent facilities that already exist in the country,” told Sorokin.

The Director of National Olympic Committees (NOC) Relations, James Macleod, stated that the International Friendship Association (IFA), which will host the summer and winter World Friendship Games in the same years as the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, “is a political organisation funded by the Russian government”.

“Considering the increasing politicization of world sport, we would ask that all NOCs exercise caution with respect to this initiative. Indeed, any NOC involvement in the World Friendship Games would not only go against the IOC EB's recommendation of 25 February 2022 with respect to international sporting events being held in Russia but also against the Olympic Movement's collective aim of maintaining the independence and autonomy of sport” said Macleod.

“The World Friendship Games must become one of the emblematic events in the international sports arena; it is not an alternative, but a commercially attractive competition for the elite of world sports,” said Marat Filippov, secretary of the Presidential Council of the Federation for the Development of Physical Culture and Sports.

The Russian Olympic Committee remains suspended by the IOC, but individuals can still be invited by some sports to compete as neutral athletes in international events if they don't publicly support the war in Ukraine and don't have ties to the military or state security agencies.

The Sports Minister, Oleg Matitsin, condemned the exclusion of the Russian Olympic Committee but opposed severing relations with the rest of the world. "The main mission now, in my view, is not only to react promptly to changes in the world sports order, though that is important, but mainly to determine Russia's role and place in building the future of sports," he affirmed.

He continued by saying that going forward, the World Friendship Games would be held regularly, elaborating, “we consider it necessary to use the resources of both Russian and international public and state organisations to the maximum for the successful holding of the Games, which should be held on a regular basis in the future.”

During its last meeting of the year, held on 13 November 2023, in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Council of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) took a clear position on the World Friendship Games and calls on ASOIF’s member federations to exercise great caution regarding their involvement with this initiative.

With Russia planning to stage a World Friendship Games weeks after the closing ceremony in Paris, ASOIF cautioned its members Monday about their involvement in a potential rival to the Olympics. The Russian multisport event "is not conducive to dialogue within the sports world during these challenging times," ASOIF President Francesco Ricci Bitti said.

According to the general director of the organizing committee of the Games Alexey Sorokin, “I note that there will be a large prize pool. We feel the demand from the international community for depoliticized Games. They should unite countries that are ready to compete without regard to politics. The only criterion is the results. We are not replacing the Olympic Games; it is rather a powerful addition to world competitions,” he said.

Russia will also host the BRICS Games from June 12 to June 23 next year - a month before the Olympic Games - in the Tatar capital, Kazan. The original members of the group - Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa - their new members - Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Argentina, Egypt, and Ethiopia - and other invited countries will attend.

Kazan will also host the Future Games in 2024, taking place from February 23 to March 3, with the participation of teams from over a hundred countries. In these games, the latest developments in artificial intelligence, information technology, robotics, virtual reality, and cyber sports will be showcased, all combined with physical activity.