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Zelensky says Russian athletes at Olympics a ‘manifestation of violence’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has called for a boycott of the 2024 Paris Olympics if Russian athletes are allowed to take part, said Friday their presence would be a “manifestation of violence”.

“The mere presence of representatives of the terrorist state is a manifestation of violence and lawlessness,” Zelensky told a virtual summit of sports ministers chaired from London. 

“And it cannot be covered up with some pretended neutrality or a white flag,” Zelensky said.

The International Olympic Committee said last month it was exploring a “pathway” to allow Russian and Belarusian competitors to take part in the Paris Games, under a neutral flag.

Ukraine has reacted furiously, threatening to pull out of the Games and Zelensky argued that Russian athletes had “no place” in Paris.  

“If the Olympic sports were killings and missile strikes, then you know which national team would occupy the first place,” he added.

Zelensky argued that very few Russian athletes had spoken out against the war. 

“There is almost no such condemnation,” he said. “There are only a few isolated voices that are quickly fading away.

“If Russian athletes are allowed to participate in any competitions or the Olympic Games, it’s just a matter of time before the terrorist state forces them to play along with the war propaganda,” Zelensky added.

“Russia is now a country that stains everything with blood — even the white flag.”

At least 228 Ukrainian athletes and coaches died during the Russian invasion, Zelensky said. 

‘Wrong side of history’

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said in a letter revealed on Thursday that Ukraine’s threat to boycott went against the “principles” of the Olympic movement.

In the letter to the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee, Bach added that Ukraine’s efforts in “pressuring” other countries to boycott the 2024 Paris Games were “extremely regrettable”.

Nordic and some eastern European countries have indicated they would join a boycott.

Bach said: “Threatening a boycott of the Olympic Games which, as you inform me, the NOC of Ukraine is currently considering, goes against the fundamentals of the Olympic Movement and the principles we stand for.” 

He said the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes “has not even been discussed in concrete terms yet” and therefore Ukraine’s efforts to “pressure” other countries to join a possible boycott was “extremely regrettable”.

Russia and its ally Belarus, which allowed its territory to be used as a launchpad when Moscow began its invasion of Ukraine last February, have been sidelined from most Olympic sports since the war began.

Pressure group Global Athlete said Thursday that Bach’s response to Ukraine’s concerns shows “the IOC continues to be on the wrong side of history”.

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