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Ukraine sports minister Vadym Guttsait has warned the country would consider a boycott of the 2024 Paris Olympics if Russia and Belarus athletes were allowed to take part.
The International Olympic Committee said on Wednesday it was continuing to work on a pathway which would enable Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals, a move which was criticised by the British Government.
The IOC had advised international sports federations last February – in the days following the start of the invasion of Ukraine – to exclude athletes from their competitions, something IOC president Thomas Bach has since described as a measure to protect those athletes.
The IOC has now called on all athletes to be treated equally, regardless of the passport they hold, and said: “Governments must not decide which athletes can participate in which competition and which athletes cannot.”
Guttsait, who is also president of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine, stressed all efforts must be made to make sure Russia and Belarus are not represented in any way at the showpiece multi-sport event next summer.
“For the whole Ukrainian sports community, this is a question of principle,” Guttsait wrote on his Facebook page.
“In this, we are supported by both the President of our state and all society.
“Part of the International Federations are outraged by the IOC’s efforts to promote the return of Russians and Belarusians.
“We have addressed and will address all international organizations that can influence the situation and whose opinions the IOC members can listen to.”
Guttsait added: “Our position is unchanged: as long as there is a war in Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian athletes should not be in international competitions.
“Certainly, our national sporting federations need to strengthen communication with international federations to keep the ban in effect.
“Work is currently underway on further possible steps and first steps to continue sanctions and prevent Russians and Belarusians from international competitions.
“If we are not heard, I do not rule out the possibility that we will boycott and refuse participation in the Olympics.”
The British Government has offered military and humanitarian support to Ukraine since the invasion began.
Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan took a dim view of the IOC’s stance.
“I want to be clear that this position from the IOC is a world away from the reality of war being felt by the Ukrainian people – and IOC president Bach’s own words less than a year ago where he strongly condemned Russia for breaking the Olympic Truce and urged it to ‘give peace a chance’,” Donelan said.
“We will strongly condemn any action taken that allows President Putin to legitimise his illegal war in Ukraine – a position the IOC previously shared.
“We, and many other countries, have been unequivocal on this throughout and we will now work urgently across like-minded countries to ensure that solidarity continues on this issue.”
The IOC had indicated last month following the Olympic Summit that a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete was being looked at, against the wishes of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky among others.
At the Summit, the Olympic Council of Asia expressed its willingness for Russian and Belarusian athletes to be involved in events under its auspices in the run-up to Paris.
The IOC said the “vast majority” of national Olympic committees, international sports federations and athletes’ representatives it had consulted during subsequent calls on January 17 and 19 had supported the right of Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete under “strict conditions”.
These include competing as neutrals, and would exclude any athlete deemed to have “actively supported” the war in Ukraine.
The European Olympic Committee released a statement on Thursday endorsing the idea of a pathway and the “importance of removing barriers to sport serving as a unifying force”.
The British Olympic Association has declined to comment, but it is understood to be reassured that the concerns of British athletes over neutrality and doping have been recognised by the IOC as the global body examines its options.
World Athletics – the international federation governing arguably the Olympics’ single highest-profile sport – says its Council will only consider lifting its total ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes related to the Ukraine invasion if it feels able to lift a separate suspension linked to state-sponsored doping in Russia.
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