After the head of the International Olympic Committee stated that although he shared the “grief and human suffering” of Ukrainian athletes, national governments shouldn’t determine who participates in international sporting events, the debate over Russian athletes’ potential participation in the Olympics has heated up.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the president of Ukraine, has pressed for the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2024 Olympic Games and said on Friday that their potential participation in Paris would be a “manifestation of violence.”
After Russia’s invasion nearly a year ago, Thomas Bach remarked in a speech at the World Ski Championships in France that Ukrainian sportsmen “know how much we share their pain, their human agony, and all the effort we’re taking to help them.”
Adding, “It is not up to governments to decide who can take part in which sports competitions because this would be the end of international sports competitions and world championships and the Olympic Games as we know it.”
The IOC’s declaration that it was looking into a “route” that would let Russian and Belarusian competitors compete in the Paris Games under a neutral flag last month sparked a furious response from the Ukrainian authorities.
According to Kyiv, at least 228 Ukrainian athletes and coaches have died in Russia’s invasion. Kyiv claims that Moscow would use the presence of Russian athletes for political gain and has threatened to withdraw if they are let to compete.
“This cannot be covered up with some pretended neutrality or a white flag,” Zelenskiy told a virtual summit of sports ministers on Friday. “Russia is now a country that stains everything with blood, even the white flag.”
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Bach insisted on Sunday the mission of the Olympic Games was “a peace mission”. History would show “who is doing more for peace, the ones who try to keep lines open and communicate, or the ones who want to isolate and divide”, he said.
The IOC aimed to “find a solution that is giving justice to the mission of sport, which is to unify, not to contribute to more confrontation, more escalation”, he said. “We’re supporting the 3,000 members of the Ukrainian Olympic community to have a strong Ukrainian team in Paris”.
The possibility of Russian and Belarusian athletes competing in Paris 2024 has also not yet been discussed, according to Bach, who also said that Zelenskiy’s invitation to him to visit the Ukrainian frontline and observe “that neutrality does not exist” has not yet been discussed.
He said that certain sports, like tennis, already permitted Russians to compete under a neutral flag and that the UN’s human rights council had “strong reservations” about any exclusion of athletes “simply because of their passports.”
A number of European nations, including the Czech Republic, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Poland oppose the participation of Russia and Belarus. A few, notably Latvia, Estonia, and Poland, have stated they would contemplate a boycott of the Games.
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, recently travelled to Ukraine and changed her stance, opposing Russian athletes competing as long as the conflict lasted. The French government has not yet developed a definite position.