Ukraine slams IOC statement on Russian, Belarusian athletes

By Rostyslav Averchuk

Lviv, Ukraine, Jan 31 (EFE).- Permitting Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in the 2024 Olympics in Paris and other competitions would be a mistake so long as Russia’s invasion continues to claim the lives of Ukrainians, including athletes, Ukraine has said.

“Not even one well-known Russian athlete has openly condemned the Russian invasion and the actions of their political leaders”, said Zhan Beleniuk, a gold medalist at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Greco-Roman wrestling and a member of the Ukrainian parliament, told Efe Tuesday.

Beleniuk is one of the many Ukrainian officials and athletes who have criticized the recent statement by the International Olympic Committee, which said Russian and Belarusian athletes could potentially participate in the 2024 Olympics and other major sports events provided they don’t “actively support” the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The sports committee of Ukraine’s parliament warned in a statement on Tuesday that Russian and Belarusian propaganda was trying to “seep into international competitions.”

The very presence of Russian and Belarusian athletes at the highest-level sports competitions would become a signal that the international community is gradually “accepting” Russian aggression against Ukraine, it added.

For Beleniuk, nothing has changed since the beginning of the invasion on February 24 last year. Russia continues to kill Ukrainians, including athletes, and destroy the country’s sports infrastructure.

He said that Russia’s political leaders often engage athletes for political and propaganda reasons, despite claiming that sport and politics are separate.

One example cited by him was a major rally in Moscow where Putin appeared with a number of Russian Olympic-level athletes who praised his actions in Ukraine to the crowd.

“Russian athletes either abstain from expressing their views or support the invasion with the director of Russia’s Olympic Committee saying he is proud of the Russian athletes who participate in the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine,” said Beleniuk.

He believes that the “no active support for invasion” condition by the IOC would likely become yet another vaguely worded formality with “no clear requirement to condemn the invasion.”

In this way, it would fail to reflect the true views of the athletes who would be able to participate even if they do support the invasion.

According to Dmytro Kuleba, minister of foreign affairs, 45 of 71 Russian 2020 Olympic medalists were members of the Central Sports Club of the Russian Army, “the army that commits atrocities, kills, rapes, and loots.”

According to Olga Saladukha, 2012 Olympics bronze medalist and member of Ukraine’s parliament, more than 10 athletes serving in the Ukrainian army have been killed just recently near Bakhmut while overall some 220 athletes have died in fighting and shelling of Ukraine by Russia.

Saladukha said in an interview she couldn’t understand Thomas Bach, head of the IOC, who visited Ukraine and saw the extent of destruction of sports infrastructure by Russia.

In reaction to the IOC statement, Ukraine’s president Volydymyr Zelenskyy invited Bach to Bakhmut to see that “neutrality does not exist.”

Ukraine’s president vowed to “do everything to ensure that the world protects sports from political and any other influence of the terrorist state, which is simply inevitable if Russian athletes participate in competitions.”

An emergency Ukrainian NOC assembly is to take place on Friday to consult with national sports federations about actions Ukraine could take if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete.EFE


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