Ukraine pushes for continued Russian Olympic exclusion

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine renewed its push to keep Russian athletes out of the Olympics on Friday ahead of an International Olympic Committee board meeting next week which is expected to set the framework for their return to international sports events.

Vadym Guttsait, who is Ukraine’s sports minister and leads the national Olympic committee, was sharply critical of the IOC’s push to reintegrate Russia and its ally Belarus into world sports. Any return, Guttsait said, would highlight the inequality caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We do not have normal conditions for training and preparation for the Olympic Games. At the same time, the Russians have all the essentials to train and perform inside their country. They sleep at night, but we don’t sleep at night,” he told reporters.

The IOC is expected to set out criteria for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete next week as qualifying events for the Paris Olympics ramp up. The IOC recommended excluding Russia and Belarus on safety grounds soon after the invasion last year but now argues for letting the two countries’ athletes compete as neutrals without national symbols. The IOC says a continued exclusion amounts to discrimination on the basis of citizenship.

IOC president Thomas Bach said Wednesday that it would resist political influence in sports and indicated that next week’s meeting could discuss issues including Russian athletes’ military links. The IOC has said it would seek to bar athletes who have “actively supported” the war but hasn’t said how exactly that process would work. Ukraine is especially concerned about the many Russian athletes who are serving members of the armed forces or who represent military-run sports clubs.

“If there will be very weak criteria, then what was the point of suspending Russia (a year ago), to bring it back now, in the run-up to the Olympic Games?” Guttsait said.

Guttsait reiterated Ukraine’s earlier vow that it could consider boycotting the Paris Olympics in protest, but only as a “last resort” if lobbying efforts fail.

“We want to participate in the Olympic Games, but without Russians and Belarusians,” he said. “Regarding whether we will participate or not, it will be, you know, not going to the Olympic Games that will be considered as a last resort by all our federations and all our athletes. But, of course, we will definitely need to hear the opinion of each of our athletes and each of our federations and make this decision together.”

Guttsait won an Olympic gold medal in fencing – Bach’s old sport – at the 1992 Olympics, where he was a teammate with Stanislav Pozdnyakov, now the Russian Olympic Committee president.

Russia has welcomed efforts to readmit its athletes but has demanded they are allowed to compete under their own flag and national anthem.

The IOC is leaving final decisions on whether to readmit Russians and Belarusians to the federations which govern individual sports. Despite calls from Bach for a unified approach, there is a growing split.

Fencing and judo have both allowed Russians and Belarusians to resume competing this year – though neither country has done so. There were cases last year of Ukrainian athletes boycotting events rather than facing Russians in fencing and judo.

Track and field kept its ban in place for the “foreseeable future” on Thursday. The IOC said in an emailed statement Friday it has “taken note” of that decision and that it was under the “sole authority” of track’s governing body, World Athletics. Ice hockey has barred Russia and Belarus from the 2024 world championships citing security concerns.

Other sports take different approaches.

In tennis, the men’s and women’s tours allow individual Russians and Belarusians to keep playing as neutrals but bar them from national team events like the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup. Ukrainian player Marta Kostyuk has refused to shake hands with Russian and Belarusian opponents and sobbed after beating Russian Varvara Gracheva for a title in Austin this month.

Soccer authorities excluded Russia from qualifying for the men’s and women’s World Cups and from qualifying for the men’s European Championship, which began this week, but allow Belarus to compete at neutral venues without crowds.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.

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