Ukraine Renews Threat to Boycott Olympics if Russians Compete

Ukraine’s sports minister on Friday renewed the country’s threat to boycott next summer’s Paris Olympics if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete, and said his country would continue to marshal like-minded allies to add weight to a threat that represents a serious crisis for the Olympic movement.

The Ukrainian official, Vadym Guttsait, said that if Ukraine failed to persuade international sports officials to bar Russian athletes, the country would, in his opinion, have to “skip the Olympic Games.” Guttsait said Ukrainians “did not want to see or meet” Russian and Belarusian athletes in international sports competitions, including the Olympics, as long as the war persisted.

The comments came a week after the International Olympic Committee said it was exploring ways to admit athletes from Russia and Belarus, which has supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine even as the war continues and conditions have only worsened in Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials reacted angrily to the proposal and immediately raised the prospect of an Olympic boycott, a concept that has received support from some of Ukraine’s neighbors but also powerful allies in Western Europe. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, challenged the Olympic committee’s president, Thomas Bach, to visit the war’s front lines in Bakhmut, during an address in which he said Olympic officials had done nothing “to protect sports from war propaganda.”

Because of Russia’s state-sponsored doping, the I.O.C. allowed Russian athletes and teams to take part only as neutrals at the 2020 Summer and 2022 Winter Games, a designation that in practice appeared to be largely symbolic.

The State of the War

  • A New Assault: Ukrainian officials have been bracing for weeks for a new Russian offensive. Now, they are warning that the campaign is underway, with the Kremlin seeking to reshape the battlefield and seize the momentum.
  • In the East: Russian forces are ratcheting up pressure on the beleaguered city of Bakhmut, pouring in waves of fighters to break Ukraine’s resistance in a bloody campaign aimed at securing Moscow’s first significant battlefield victory in months.
  • Mercenary Troops: Tens of thousands of Russian convicts have joined the Wagner Group to fight alongside the Kremlin’s decimated forces. Here is how they have fared.
  • Military Aid: After weeks of tense negotiations, Germany and the United States announced they would send battle tanks to Ukraine. But the tanks alone won’t help turn the tide, and Kyiv has started to press Western officials on advanced weapons like long-range missiles and fighter jets.

Until a final decision is made, Guttsait said, he urged sports officials, athletes and others to lobby for a continued prohibition. He called on heads of different sports to contact their equivalents overseas, and said further talks would be held with European sports ministers on Feb. 10. “We have to work on everyone,” he said.

The International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky. Credit…Agence France-Presse, via Ukrainian Presidential Press Service

Ukraine’s threat is a crisis for the Olympic movement before the start of a crucial qualification period for the Games. The organization for Olympic sports in Asia has said it would consider hosting Russian athletes in qualification competitions there amid continued opposition in Europe, even as its own members have expressed concern about the idea, uncertain if it would take Olympic places away from Asian athletes. And the crisis this week led the International Olympic Committee to issue unusual public rebukes to both Russia and Ukraine.

On Tuesday, the I.O.C. reminded Russia’s top Olympic official, who had suggested that his country’s athletes should not be subjected to different rules, that the sanctions currently in place were “not negotiable.” Two days later, in a lengthy Q. and A. posted on its website, the Olympic Committee scolded Ukrainian Olympic officials, saying it was “extremely regretful to escalate this discussion with a threat of a boycott at this premature stage.”

To justify its stance, the I.O.C. has cited the opinion of rights experts linked to the United Nations who have backed its view that athletes should not be penalized by the passport they hold.

Russian teams continue to be banned from other major sports, but the status of individual athletes has been less clear cut, with many sports, including tennis, allowing athletes from Russia and Belarus to play in events without flags or affiliation to their home countries.

Soccer’s leaders recently extended a ban on Russian teams from international and club competitions that was imposed shortly after the start of the war. But that ban went into effect only after several countries said they would refuse to take the field against Russian opponents.

The latest proposal to accommodate Russia and its athletes is in keeping with the I.O.C.’s treatment of Russia in the aftermath of revelations that it had corrupted several Olympics and world championships with a state-backed doping program involving thousands of athletes. Having initially threatened the most severe sanctions, the I.O.C. eventually backed down, allowing Russian athletes and teams to take part in recent Summer and Winter Olympics ostensibly as neutrals.

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