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Olympics chief ‘on side of peace’ in Russia’s sporting exile

The head of the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday pinned full responsibility for Russia’s sporting exile on the Kremlin, insisting the IOC was on “the side of peace”.

The IOC on Monday urged sports federations to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, having already urged the cancellation or relocation of planned sports events.

The move quickly led to Russia becoming an international sporting pariah, with prestigious events scrapped, FIFA kicking Russia out of the 2022 football World Cup and Europe’s UEFA expelling Russian national teams and clubs from all international competitions.

IOC president Thomas Bach said that with the invasion, Moscow and Minsk were in clear breach of the Olympic truce surrounding the Winter Games and Paralympics in Beijing.

“This is the responsibility of the Russian government. We should not fall into this trap of the propaganda there, to say that this is a political act,” Bach told reporters, branding such moves a “cheap trick”.

“This is the consequence of the violation of the Olympic truce and the Olympic charter by their government.”

He added: “There can be no doubt where we are standing in this aggression, in this war: we are standing at the side of peace.”

Fears for Ukrainian athletes

Bach said fair competition simply could not go ahead if Russian athletes were freely taking part while their Ukrainian counterparts were “seeking shelter in the subway in Kiev for the bombing”.

“You would have had the Russian athletes competing in competitions they (Ukrainians) would have liked to compete in, or even taking their places,” he said.

Bach said it was unknown how many athletes were among the 875,000 refugees who have so far fled Ukraine for safety in neighbouring countries, “but we are working on this”, he said.

As for lifting the sanctions if a peace deal or ceasefire was reached, Bach said “we have left this open”, explaining that it was difficult to define events that would lead to lightening—or increasing—the sanctions.

He also refused to be drawn on whether sporting sanctions would be slapped on any national team that broke the IOC edict and carried on competing with Russia.

Risk of speaking out

Bach praised Russian athletes who have spoken out in favour of peace, despite the risks to their liberty.

He also insisted that if others chose to stay silent, it did not mean they backed the “horrifying” invasion – and could well mean the opposite.

“Thousands of Russians who have spoken out for peace have been detained,” Bach said.

“It is a risk now, apparently, for every Russian to speak out in favour of peace, so you cannot interpret silence as agreement with the war. Maybe even the contrary is correct.”

Bach said he had not been on speaking terms with Russian President Vladimir Putin for several years.

Sports governing bodies and major teams have been slashing their ties with Russian sponsors. UEFA terminated its contract with Russian state energy giant Gazprom with immediate effect.

Bach said the IOC had no Russian sponsors, and revealed that Belarus and Russia have now been stripped off the tender issued last week for European Olympic broadcasting rights.

Earlier Wednesday, Russian and Belarusian athletes were given the green light to compete at the Beijing Winter Paralympics as neutrals.

The International Paralympic Committee said they will compete under the Paralympic flag and not be included in the medal table.

“We fully respect this decision,” said Bach.

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