Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy slammed the International Olympic Committee on Friday for its recent indication that Russian athletes could be allowed to compete under a neutral flag at the 2024 Paris Olympics next summer.
“There is no such thing as neutrality when a war like this is going on,” Zelenskyy said in a taped speech. “And we know how often tyrannies try to use sports for their ideological interests.
“It is obvious that any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood.”
Zelenskyy said he was “disappointed” by the news released by the IOC on Wednesday, which outlined a potential pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in Paris while formally banning the countries’ flags, anthems and colors.
Ukraine’s president also invited IOC president Thomas Bach to visit a city in the Donbas region of the country, which has been devastated by the war, so Bach “could see with his own eyes that neutrality does not exist.”
OPINION:While rest of the world stands with Ukraine, IOC stands firmly with Russia
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An IOC spokesperson did not immediately reply to an email Friday seeking comment and asking if Bach would visit Ukraine.
The IOC, which has long characterized itself as apolitical, moved quickly last year to sanction Russia when it invaded Ukraine days after the conclusion of the 2022 Winter Olympics. The organization urged other sports governing bodies to exclude athletes and officials from Russia – as well as neighboring Belarus – from international sporting events while the war is ongoing.
More recently, however, Bach has indicated the IOC is looking for ways to punish the Russian government without punishing the country’s athletes.
The IOC’s statement this week reiterated a “full and unwavering commitment to solidarity with the Ukrainian athletes.” But it also appeared to lay the groundwork for a plan in which Russian athletes would be allowed to compete internationally, including at the Olympics, but “under strict conditions.” One of those conditions would be that Russian athletes have not actively supported the war.
“I believe that this is already a success,” said Igor Levitin, vice president of the Russian Olympic Committee. “The Olympic community realizes that the Olympic Games cannot transpire without Russia’s participation.”
The inclusion of Russian athletes, however, could in turn lead to Ukraine bowing out.
In a post on Facebook published Thursday, Ukraine’s sports minister, Vadym Gutzeit, called on national Olympic committees to speak out against the possible participation of Russian athletes if the war is still ongoing next summer, when the Paris Games begin.
“If we are not heard, I do not rule out the possibility that we will boycott and refuse participation in the Olympics,” Gutzeit wrote.
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.