Russian athletes must be banned from Olympics, Ukraine’s Zelensky says

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has urged France to ban Russian athletes from attending the Paris Olympic Games in 2024 to show that “terror” is not acceptable.

Writing a letter to French president Emmanuel Macron, Mr Zelensky pushed back against the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) approval to Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate as “neutrals” at the Games.

“Attempts by the International Olympic Committee to bring Russian athletes back into the Olympic Games are attempts to tell the whole world that terror is somehow acceptable,” Mr Zelensky said in his nightly video address.

“As if you could shut your eyes to what Russia is doing in Kherson, Kharkiv, Bakhmut and Avdiivka,” he said, referring to Ukrainian regions that are facing the onslaught of Russia’s invasion.

Russia, he added, must not be allowed to “use (the Games) or any other sport event as propaganda for its aggression or its state chauvinism”.

He said a “major Olympic mistake” should not be repeated, giving the example of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin when the Nazis were in power.

“The Olympic movement and terrorist states definitely should not cross paths,” he said, adding that the 20th century had seen too many mistakes that led to frightful tragedies.

The IOC has come under pressure from Ukrainian allies like the UK, as well organisations such as Athletes for Ukraine and Global Athlete.

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky and France's president Emmanuel Macron shake hands at the end of a press conference at the Mariyinsky Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine in 2022 (AP)
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky and France's president Emmanuel Macron shake hands at the end of a press conference at the Mariyinsky Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine in 2022 (AP)

Last week, the IOC held a meeting with stakeholder groups of the Olympic Movement and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to conclude that Russian and Belarusian athletes are free to compete as neutrals.

“No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport,” it said in a statement.

It will further explore a “pathway for athletes’ participation in competition under strict conditions”.

The Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council said the boycott raises serious issues of non-discrimination.

“We express serious concern, however, about the recommendation to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials such as judges from international competitions, based solely on their nationality, as a matter of principle,” it said.

A joint statement from Athletes for Ukraine and athlete association Global Athlete criticised the move and accused the IOC of endorsing “Russia’s brutal war and invasion of Ukraine”.

“The return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international competition, especially the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, will see the Russian state use athletes once more to bolster the war effort and distract from the atrocities in Ukraine on one of the biggest multi-sport stages in the world,” the statement added.

The UK government has also backed Ukraine and said plans to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes “is a world away from the reality of war being felt by the Ukrainian people”.

“We will strongly condemn any action taken that allows President Putin to legitimize his illegal war in Ukraine – a position the IOC previously shared,” said British culture secretary Michelle Donelan.

The Ukrainian president said the situation was very tough in some regions due to constant attacks by Russian forces as the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine neared its one-year anniversary.

Three people were killed in Russian missile strikes in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, damaging a hospital and a school, while fighting raged in the eastern Donetsk region where Russia again shelled the key town of Vuhledar, Ukrainian officials said.

Mr Zelensky urged for faster supplies of weapons from Ukrainian allies as “Russia wants the war to drag on and exhaust our forces”.