© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Olympic rings to celebrate the IOC official announcement that Paris won the 2024 Olympic bid are seen in front of the Eiffel Tower at the Trocadero square in Paris, France, September 16, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
By Olena Harmash
KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine hopes to secure widespread international support for banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Paris Olympics due to Moscow’s invasion, the sports minister said on Tuesday.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is open to including Russian and Belarusian athletes as neutrals at the 2024 Games and has opened a door to them competing in qualifiers.
“This is unacceptable for us,” Sports Minister and former Olympic champion Vadym Huttsait told Reuters at his offices in Kyiv, beside a wall with portraits of athletes killed in the war launched by Moscow a year ago with assistance from Belarus.
“It is impossible for us at a time when the full-scale war is going on, when our athletes, our soldiers are defending our homeland, our land, defending their homes, their families, their parents.”
The 51-year-old won an Olympic fencing team gold in 1992, was junior sabre champion in the old Soviet Union four years before that, and coached Ukraine’s winning team at the 2008 Games.
At least 220 Ukrainian athletes and coaches have died in the war, Huttsait said, with over 340 sports facilities damaged or ruined.
“Ukraine will unite with many countries in Europe and the world … and it (Russians competing) will not be allowed,” he added, saying 40 nations had given Ukrainian athletes housing and training assistance abroad during the war.
However, there has been little public support yet from other nations for an outright ban on Russians at Paris.
Russia says its “special military operation” in Ukraine is to protect its own security, denies accusations of atrocities, and says any push to squeeze it out of global sport will fail.
Moscow said on Tuesday it would welcome any IOC moves to allow its athletes to compete in the Olympics, after the world’s top sports body looked at options for their return to international events.
“Certainly, there is some attempt by the International Olympic Committee to allow our athletes to participate in international competitions,” said Stanislav Pozdnyakov, head of Russia’s Olympic Committee.
“Maybe in the future Olympic Games as well, of course, we welcome it entirely,” he added, while cautioning against what he said were “additional conditions” imposed on Russian athletes.
‘LIVES MORE IMPORTANT THAN MEDALS’
The IOC’s previous recommendation to ban Russians and Belarusians has been applied by many sports federations.
But last week, it backed a proposal by the Olympic Council of Asia to allow them to compete in Asia, which could potentially include Olympic qualifying events.
Should that happen, Ukraine’s sporting authorities and athletes will face a “very difficult decision” whether to boycott Paris, Huttsait said.
“When we lose so many people, so many athletes, the lives of Ukrainians are more important to us than any medal at international competitions,” he said.
Ukrainian officials have turned on the IOC in recent days for promoting “violence, mass murders, destruction” with the idea of giving Russia a “platform to promote genocide.”
The IOC has called that defamatory and said such words do not promote constructive discussion.
On Tuesday, ex-boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko, brother of Kyiv’s mayor, called on IOC head Thomas Bach not to betray the Olympic spirit and become an “accomplice in this abominable war” by letting Russia compete.
Moscow is trying to turn the page on years of doping scandals after its teams were forced to compete without their flag or anthem at the Olympics and major international events.