Zelensky says Russian athletes at Olympics a ‘manifestation of violence’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has called for a boycott of the 2024 Paris Olympics if Russian athletes are allowed to take part, said Friday their presence would be a “manifestation of violence”.
Ukraine has reacted furiously to the International Olympic Committee’s announcement last month that it was exploring a “pathway” to allow Russian and Belarusian competitors to take part in the Paris Games, under a neutral flag.
Kyiv fears President Vladimir Putin, whose forces will soon move into a second year of their invasion of Ukraine, will seek to gain political advantage from the participation of Russians at the Olympics next year.
IOC President Thomas Bach has described Ukraine’s calls for a boycott of the Games as contrary to the “principles we stand for”.
But in a video address to a virtual meeting of sports ministers from around 30 countries, including the United States, in London, Zelensky said: “The mere presence of representatives of the terrorist state is a manifestation of violence and lawlessness.
“And it cannot be covered up with some pretended neutrality or a white flag,” Zelensky said.
“If the Olympic sports were killings and missile strikes, then you know which national team would occupy the first place,” he added.
Zelensky argued that very few Russian athletes had spoken out against the war.
“There is almost no such condemnation,” he said. “There are only a few isolated voices that are quickly fading away.
“If Russian athletes are allowed to participate in any competitions or the Olympic Games, it’s just a matter of time before the terrorist state forces them to play along with the war propaganda,” Zelensky added.
“Russia is now a country that stains everything with blood — even the white flag.”
At least 228 Ukrainian athletes and coaches died during the Russian invasion, Zelensky said.
In his letter to the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee that was made public on Thursday, Bach said Ukraine’s efforts to “pressure” other countries to boycott the 2024 Paris Games were “extremely regrettable”.
Nordic and some eastern European countries have indicated they would join a boycott.
Bach said: “Threatening a boycott of the Olympic Games which, as you inform me, the NOC of Ukraine is currently considering, goes against the fundamentals of the Olympic Movement and the principles we stand for.”
He said the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes “has not even been discussed in concrete terms yet” and therefore Ukraine’s efforts to “pressure” other countries to join a possible boycott was “extremely regrettable”.
Britain’s Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said after the meeting: “There is danger here that the world wishes to move on and back to business as usual.
“However, the situation in Ukraine has not changed since the IOC’s initial decision last February on banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from competition,” she added.
“As long as Putin continues his war, Russia and Belarus must not be allowed to compete on the world stage or be represented at the Olympics.”
Poland suggested including Russian and Belarusian athletes that have opposed Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in the Refugee Team for the Paris Olympics.
Speaking after the London summit, Polish Sports Minister Kamil Bortniczuk said the proposal was “the only possibility” for Russians and Belarusians to compete in the French capital.
Russia and its ally Belarus, which allowed its territory to be used as a launchpad when Moscow began its invasion of Ukraine last February, have been sidelined from most Olympic sports since the war began.