No ‘pretend neutrality’ for Russian athletes at 2024 Olympics, Zelenskyy demands

Ukraine president leads call to ban athletes competing as supposedly neutral individuals

The 2024 Olympics will be held in Paris where Russian athletes could be banned from competing as neutral individuals. Reuters.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged allies at a UK-led meeting not to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as individuals under a “pretend neutrality” at the Paris Olympics.

Britain is among those lobbying for an outright ban on their inclusion after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) opened the door to athletes competing as supposedly neutral individuals.

Dialling into the meeting on video, Mr Zelenskyy said “terror and Olympism are two opposites – they cannot be combined”.

“Russia is trying to use any attention of the world to the Russians for war propaganda,” Mr Zelenskyy said, according to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

“Many Russian athletes are associated with the sports clubs of the Russian army and security state agencies.”

Mr Zelenskyy added Russian participation “cannot be covered up with a pretend neutrality or a white flag”.

New UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, who chaired the meeting of 36 countries on Friday, warned of a “danger here that the world wishes to move on and back to business as usual”.

And she stressed nothing has changed since the IOC’s original decision to ban the athletes in response to the war in Ukraine.

Ministers and representatives from countries including France, Germany, and Poland – as well as the USA and Canada, took part in the virtual conference.

The IOC has said there are no plans for a Russian or Belarusian delegation at the 2024 Games but is considering whether individual, “neutral” athletes from the countries could take part.

Earlier this week, the Olympic committees of Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark backed calls for the ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes to be upheld.

And last week, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland all voiced their opposition to the inclusion of athletes from Russia and Belarus – which has has supported Vladimir Putin’s invasion of their neighbour.

The office of Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, has appeared to back the IOC position and he has in the past has argued “sport should not be politicised”.

But Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has demanded no Russian or Belarusian athletes take part.

“It is not possible to parade as if nothing had happened, to have a delegation that comes to Paris while the bombs continue to rain down on Ukraine,” she has said.

The IOC initially recommended the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes from international sport in the days following the invasion.

However, its president Thomas Bach has since said that was a measure designed only to protect those athletes, and said it was now imperative that athletes not be discriminated against simply because of the passport they hold.

The IOC has warned any boycott will only affect the athletes of the country or countries involved, and that a boycott would go against the fundamental principles of the Olympic Movement.

Updated: February 10, 2023, 8:59 PM