The Ukrainian president invited the head of the IOC to visit Bakhmut in the conflict over the banning of Russian and Belarusian athletes.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy invited International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach to visit the frontline town of Bakhmut, where Ukrainian soldiers are engaged in a fierce battle with Russian forces.
Zelenskyy made the provocative call on Friday after the Olympic Committee said it needed to explore a “pathway” to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in the 2024 Paris Games.
Russia and its ally Belarus have been banned from competing in most Olympic sports since the invasion of Ukraine.
“I invite Mr. Bach to Bakhmut. So he could see with his own eyes that neutrality does not exist,” Zelenskyy said in a speech he shared on social media.
“It is obvious that every neutral banner of Russian athletes is stained with blood,” he said.
Bakhmut, in the eastern region of Donetsk, is currently the epicenter of the fighting in Ukraine.
We know how often tyrannies try to use sports for their ideological interests. It is obvious that every neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood. I invite Mr. Bach to Bakhmut. So that he can see for himself that neutrality does not exist. pic.twitter.com/icSdvgpD87
— Volodymyr Zelensky (@ZelenskyyUa) January 27, 2023
Bach said Friday that Russian and Belarusian athletes can hope to compete at the 2024 Paris Olympics, but only if they compete under a neutral flag.
The mission is to bring together athletes from all over the world, “especially when their countries are in conflict,” Bach said during a press briefing in the German city of Oberhof.
“The principle that has been set is: No Russian or Belarusian athletes,” Bach explained, but “individual, neutral athletes from those countries without any identification with their nationality” could “eventually” compete next year.
However, he emphasized that the IOC is only “at the beginning of very detailed consultations” on the issue.
Russian forces have been trying to take control of Bakhmut for months in what Kyiv has described as some of the bloodiest battles since the Russian offensive began on February 24 last year.
Zelenskyy said that it is “impossible not to be disappointed” by the attitude of the IOC leader.
“I have talked to him several times and I have never heard how he will protect sports from war propaganda if he returns Russian athletes to international competitions,” Zelenskyy said.
“We will do everything for the world to protect sports from the political and any other influence of a terrorist state, which is simply inevitable if Russian athletes compete.”
In a statement on Wednesday, the IOC said its executive board had met to consider the issue, with the “vast majority of participants” expressing that “no athlete should be prevented from competing simply because of their passport” and that “governments must it does not decide which athletes can participate in which competition and which cannot”.
Statement of solidarity with Ukraine, sanctions against Russia and Belarus, and the status of athletes from these countries👇 https://t.co/OGk1HqoN1N
— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) January 25, 2023
Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Gutzeit has informed the IOC that his country plans to boycott the 2024 Games if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete.
“There can be no agreement with representatives of terrorist countries,” Gutzeit said.
“I hope that all federations, athletes and the whole world are paying close attention and that we don’t have to resort to this extreme measure,” Gutzeit warned, referring to Ukraine’s boycott of the Olympic Games.
Bach said on Friday that excluding athletes based only on their passports does not comply with human rights requirements. If exceptions were made and athletes with Russian or Belarusian passports were excluded from the Olympics, it would set an “extremely dangerous precedent for world sport”, Bach argued, adding that other countries had also been affected by the wars.
“What to say to an athlete from Yemen, from Iraq, from Libya, from Armenia, from Azerbaijan, from Ethiopia?”
The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) on Thursday offered Russian and Belarusian athletes the chance to compete at this year’s Asian Games.