Ukraine may boycott the 2024 Summer Olympics if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete in the Paris Games, the country’s sport minister has warned.
Vadim Guttsait’s said on Thursday that as long as there is a “war in Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian athletes should not be in international competitions”.
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Belarus is a major ally of Russia and was used as a staging post for its full-scale invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.
Guttsait’s comments came after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it would “explore a pathway” for athletes from the two countries to participate as neutrals.
“Work is currently under way on further possible steps and first steps to continue sanctions and prevent Russians and Belarusians from international competitions,” Guttsait said in a post on Facebook.
“If we are not heard, I do not rule out the possibility that we will boycott and refuse participation in the Olympics,” he added.
Guttsait, who is also the president of Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee, added that talks with national sports federations over a possible boycott had already begun.
IOC ‘disregarding Russian war crimes’
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year, many international sports bodies have suspended Russian and Belarusian teams or athletes in protest against the war. Others have been permitted to compete under a neutral flag.
Just days after Russia launched its offensive on February 24, the IOC had urged sporting governing bodies and organisers to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from international events.
But on Wednesday, in an apparent change of course, it said the possibility of athletes from the two countries competing in sporting events as neutrals should be “further explored”.
“No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport,” the IOC said in a statement following a meeting of its executive board.
Following that announcement, the Olympic Council of Asia said on Thursday it had offered athletes from both countries the chance to compete in this year’s Asian Games, giving them a qualification pathway for the Paris Games through Asia rather than Europe, where they could face boycotts and hostility.
The move was met with dismay and anger in Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he had told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday that Russia should have “no place” in the Olympics.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also weighed in, urging all “sports figures to make their stance known”.
“[The] IOC has been disregarding Russian war crimes, claiming that ‘No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport’, while Ukrainian athletes continue to be killed by Russia because of their passports,” Kuleba said.
‘The wrong path’
There was no immediate response from the French government, but other European countries backing Ukraine in the war also criticised the IOC’s decision.
British Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said the organisation’s stance was “a world away from the reality of war being felt by the Ukrainian people”.
In Germany, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser called it “the wrong path”.
But in Russia, there was praise for the IOC’s approach from Igor Levitin, an aide to President Vladimir Putin and senior vice president of the Russian Olympic Committee.
“I think it is already a success. Olympic society understands that the Olympic Games cannot be staged without Russia,” Levitin was quoted as saying by the state-owned TASS news agency.
Meanwhile, the International Paralympic Committee said it would “follow with interest the IOC proposed process”.
“We wish to reiterate that we hope and pray that the conflict comes to an end, that no more lives are taken, and that we can run sports and politics separately,” Andrew Parsons, the IPC’s president, said in a statement.
The Paris Games are scheduled to take place from July 26 to August 11 next year.