The Government has slammed the decision to allow Russian athletes to compete at next year’s Paris Olympics as neutrals.
Following a board meeting on Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee paved the way for participants from Russia and Belarus to enter qualification for the Games despite the war in Ukraine.
However, culture secretary Michelle Donelan has urged the IOC to rethink their stance and ban all Russians from Paris 2024, and has called for urgent talks with other countries over the issue.
Culture secretary Michelle Donelan called for the IOC to rethink allow Russian athletes to compete as neutrals
The IOC, led by Thomas Bach, plans to allow athletes from the nation to compete neutrally
Donelan said in a statement: ‘I want to be clear that this position from the IOC is a world away from the reality of war being felt by the Ukrainian people – and IOC President Bach’s own words less than a year ago where he strongly condemned Russia for breaking the Olympic Truce and urged it to ‘give peace a chance’.
‘We will strongly condemn any action taken that allows President Putin to legitimise his illegal war in Ukraine – a position the IOC previously shared.
‘We, and many other countries, have been unequivocal on this throughout, and we will now work urgently across like-minded countries to ensure that solidarity continues on this issue.’
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged Emmanuel Macron to ban Russian athletes
The IOC Executive Board on Wednesday confirmed it would explore a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete neutrally at the Games, insiting that ‘no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport’.
The pathway explored by the IOC would require Russian and Belarusian athletes to meet ‘strict conditions’ to compete as a neutral athlete at the Games.
The organisation highlighted the presence of athletes from the two nations currently competing within professional leagues, as well as some individual sports.
Among the conditions which would be considerd would be the a requirement that athletes have not actively supported the war in Ukraine.
Bach last year urged country’s to ‘give peace a chance’ during the Winter Olympics in China
The focus on the issue comes with qualification process for Paris 2024 set to ramp up this year, with a proposal being considered for athletes from Russia and Belarus to enter qualfication events in Asia, rather than Europe.
The IOC’s proposal comes despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy having called French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday to urge him to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from next year’s Games.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has appeared to give her backing to the IOC’s pathway, despite hinting last year she would be supportive of a ban.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo appeared to signal her support for the IOC’s proposal
‘I think this is a moment for athletes and that athletes should not be deprived of their competition,’ Hidalgo said, according to L’Equipe.
‘But I think and I plead, like a large part of the sports movement, so that there is no delegation under the Russian banner.’
Tony Estanguet, the President of the Paris 2024 Organising Committee, last year praised the decision to ban Russian and Belaurisan athletes and officials from international sporting events following the invasion of Ukraine.
Estanguet said the ban was ‘a courageous, strong decision that must be respected’, but admitted the IOC would have the final decision over entry for Paris 2024.
The IOC could allow Russia and Belarus athletes to enter qualification events in Asia
The International Paralympic Committee last year banned athletes from Russia and Belarus from competing at the Winter Paralympics in Beijing, a week after the outbreak of the war.
The organisation initially had hoped to allow athletes from both nations to compete as neturals, but were forced to reverse their initial decision after mulitple nations threatened to withdraw from the Games.
IOC President Bach has repeatedly insisted athletes should not be held responsible for the actions of their Governments, claiming qualification to events should be decided on ‘sporting merits and not on political interference’.
Wimbledon chiefs have faced pressure to reverse its ban on Russian and Belarusian players
In December, the German official criticised the British Government for ‘interfering’, after their position led to Russian and Belarusian players being barred from last year’s Wimbledon.
Pressure was increased on Wimbledon chiefs to reverse the ban after the Lawn Tennis Association was hit with a £825,000 fine for barring players from all UK events last year.
The punishment from the ATP Tour also came with the threat of being stopped from hosting official events.
The LTA had earlier been hit with a £620,000 sanction from the women’s WTA Tour, which is also insistent that competitors from Russia and Belarus are allowed to participate, albeit under neutral flags.