UK and France demand ban on Russia, Belarus state-funded athletes

The United Kingdom and France’s sports ministers have insisted that Russian and Belarusian athletes must never compete as neutrals as recommended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because they could still be funded by their governments.

The IOC sanctioned Russia and Belarus after Moscow invaded Ukraine in February 2022 with Minsk’s support, but last month recommended that their athletes be allowed to return to international competition as neutrals.Several Olympic sports federations have taken steps to readmit Russians and Belarusians as neutrals, but Ukraine is threatening to lead a boycott of the Paris 2024 Games unless Moscow withdraws its soldiers.

The United Kingdom’s Minister for Culture, Media and Sport Lucy Frazer told a Council of Europe parliamentary hearing on Tuesday that the IOC recommendations’ absence of reference to state funding was worrying.

“Secondly, the provisions set out on military and national security agency links are currently minimal … We know that the links between state, military and sport in Russia and Belarus are root and branch,” she added at the meeting in Strasbourg.

“Many Russian athletes have been active in their support for Putin’s invasion.”She added, “None of us should countenance the idea of a Ukrainian athlete being forced to share a pitch, a court, a field, a starting line with state-sponsored athletes from Russia and Belarus.”Representing the Olympic body at Tuesday’s meeting, former Armenian wrestler Arsen Julfalakyan, chair of United World Wrestling’s athletes’ commission, said he opposed a ban.

Julfalakyan said he had never advocated for banning Azerbaijani athletes despite the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between both countries that has killed thousands.

“I realised what war means and what it looks like. I lost friends, relatives and people I knew closely … I’ve never called for a total ban on Azerbaijan athletes and I won’t do that here either,” said the Olympic medallist.

“Sport should never be politicised. It’s not acceptable to use sport as an instrument for punishment. It’s not up to governments to decide – that will end international sport.”

As well as threatening a boycott, Ukraine has also barred its national teams from competing in events which include Russian and Belarusian competitors.

“The government will not financially support the participation of Ukrainian teams in such competitions,” Deputy Sport Minister Andriy Chesnokov told the meeting.

Russia has condemned the West for what it says is an unjustified attempt to politicise sport for geopolitical gain.

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