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Olympics 2024: Volydymr Zelensky continues his “marathon” against the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes

A few hours before chairing a meeting of sports ministers from 35 countries, this Friday, February 10, to address the question of a possible reintegration of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competitions, the Briton Lucy Frazer had warned: “We have to be clear. We ask the IOC [Comité international olympique] to show that the Olympic values ​​have meaning. »

London has never hidden its opposition to the return of representatives of these two countries to the bosom of world sport, from which they had been banished after the invasion of Ukraine by Kremlin troops, with the help of Minsk, February 24, 2022. A fortiori when this return can result in participation in the Paris Olympic Games in the summer of 2024.

Friday afternoon, end of an appointment described as “very productive”, the British Secretary of State repeated the position of the United Kingdom : ” As long as [Vladimir] Putin continues his barbaric war, Russia and Belarus should not be represented at the Olympics. »

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Invited to speak at the opening of the meeting and while intense bombardments were being carried out by Russian forces in his country, the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, estimated that the presence of these athletes would “a sign of violence and impunity”. And to argue: “It cannot be covered up with so-called neutrality or a white flag. Because Russia is now a country that stains everything with blood – even the white flag. »

“Ukraine has launched a marathon of honesty. I invite you to join him. The International Olympic Committee needs honesty. An honesty that he has unfortunately lost,” he concluded.

Several European states, including the Czech Republic, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Poland, have already expressed their firm opposition to any reinstatement. Although few in number, some – Latvia, Estonia and Poland – had even said they were considering a boycott of the high mass of sport. “We are going in a direction where we would not need a boycott because all countries are unanimous”, Lithuanian sports minister Jurgita Siugzdiniene told Reuters after Friday’s meeting. Asserting for his part that “most votes” were in favor of a ban on Russians and Belarusians, his Polish counterpart, Kamil Bortniczuk, sketched out a compromise: the creation of a team of refugees, which could include dissidents from both countries.

On January 25, the IOC unveiled a roadmap outlining the conditions for a return of Russian and Belarusian athletes – under neutral flag and as long as they do not have “not actively supported the war in Ukraine” –, arguing that“no athlete should be banned from competition on the sole basis of their passport”. The prospect had been greeted by a dismissal on the side of kyiv, which has since been trying to gather support to prevent any reinstatement.

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“No concrete discussions yet”

The tension around this dossier had risen a notch higher on Thursday, when the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee (NOC) posted on its website a letter from the boss of the IOC to the address of its president, who is also Minister of sports, Vadym Gutzeit, dated January 31. In the missive, Thomas Bach denounces in particular the Ukrainian threat not to send a delegation to the 2024 Olympics. A threat which, according to him, will “against the fundamentals of the Olympic movement” and is a violation of the charter that governs the movement. “And as history has shown, previous boycotts failed to achieve their political goals and served only to punish athletes”argues the former German Olympic fencing champion, marked by Berlin’s decision not to go to the Moscow Games in 1980.

Read also: IOC President calls on Ukraine to drop Olympics boycott

In his eyes, the Ukrainian exits on the subject are premature, while the participation of Russians and Belarusians in the 2024 Olympics “has not even been discussed in concrete terms yet”. Above all, the IOC President denounces the communication strategy adopted by kyiv: [Votre lettre] addressed to your colleagues from national Olympic committees, international federations, IOC members and hosts of the next Olympic Games, to lobby to influence their decision-making publicly, was perceived by the vast majority of them as , to say the least, extremely regrettable. »

In the process, the Ukrainian NOC argued in particular that the IOC focused on the rights of Russians and Belarusians, but concealed the effects that their presence could have on the athletes of his country: “Each of the Ukrainians suffered from Russian aggression in one way or another: they lost their relatives and friends, their homes, suffered psychological trauma, lost the opportunity to do what they love. »

On the French side, the situation is confused. A few days after having defended the principle of the neutral banner so as not to “deprive athletes of their competition”, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, backpedaled. The socialist, who was visiting the Ukrainian capital on Thursday, finally said she was against their participation as long as the war continued.

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Volodymyr Zelensky has also repeatedly asked his French counterpart that the Russians be excluded from the competition. A subject that the two men discussed on February 8 during a dinner at the Elysée. ” We talked about it, I also explained how things stood., said Emmanuel Macron, Thursday, on his arrival in Brussels for a European summit. The Head of State will personally decide “in the summer”, “depending on the circumstances, and depending on what is on the ground”.

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The IOC, which traditionally sends its convocations to the national Olympic committees a year before the Games, repeats that the decision is ultimately up to the international federations, “sole authorities” governing their competitions at the Olympic Games. Olympic trials are already underway in some disciplines and will begin soon in many others.

Given the complexity of the situation, the return to competition of neutral athletes in 2023, including for the first Olympic qualifying tournament at the world championships, is considered very unlikely., for its part reacted the world governing body of archery, last week. She also said she was against the IOC’s plan to allow these athletes to take part in competitions in Asia, and not in Europe, to validate their ticket for the Games.

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