The International Olympic Committee’s efforts to find a “pathway” for Russians to take part in the 2024 Paris Games despite the invasion of Ukraine were strongly criticised by Britain and Denmark on Thursday.
Ignoring calls from Ukraine to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from next year’s summer Olympics, the IOC said Wednesday that a way to allow competitors from those countries to take part should be “further explored”.
Russia and their allies Belarus have been sidelined from most Olympic sports since the invasion of Ukraine last February.
But the IOC said “no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport”.
Hot on the heels of that announcement, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) on Thursday offered Russian and Belarusian athletes the chance to compete in this year’s Asian Games.
That is a significant move because they could gain qualifying marks in competition in Asia for the Paris Olympics.
The OCA said: “All athletes, regardless of their nationality or the passport they hold, should be able to compete in sports competitions.”
Ukraine’s sports minister said his country could boycott the 2024 Olympics if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete.
“Such a situation is unacceptable for our country,” Vadym Goutzeit said.
“Our position remains unchanged — as long as the war continues in Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian athletes should not be in international competitions,” Goutzeit wrote on Facebook.
“If we are not heard, I do not exclude the possibility that we will boycott and refuse to participate in the Olympics.”
Britain, which has supplied military and humanitarian support to Ukraine since the invasion began, condemned the IOC’s move, saying it was a “world away from the reality of war”.
Britain’s Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said: “We condemn any action that allows President Putin to legitimise his illegal war in Ukraine.
“This position from the IOC is a world away from the reality of war being felt by the Ukrainian people — and IOC president (Thomas) 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,” she added.
The head of Denmark’s National Olympic Committee, Hans Natorp, said his country was also strongly opposed to Russia returning to the Olympic fold.
“The Russian aggression in UKR is escalating,” he tweeted. “Under these circumstances, it will be unacceptable to open up for RUS and Belarusian international sports participation.
“We stand firmly in our position. Now is not the right time to consider their return.”
The mayor of Paris said though that she was in favour of Russian athletes competing at the 2024 Olympics, providing they did so as neutrals.
“I think that it’s a sporting moment and we shouldn’t deprive athletes of the competition,” Anne Hidalgo told France 2 television on Thursday.
“But I think and what I’m arguing for, as is a large part of the sporting world, is that there isn’t a delegation under the Russian banner.”
She suggested they compete under a “neutral banner”.
Paris organisers have no say on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.
The IOC said on Wednesday that the international federation for each Olympic sport was “the sole authority for its international competitions”.
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