Olympic chief Thomas Bach on Thursday criticised the Ukrainian government for “sanctioning” its own athletes by not allowing them to compete in recent global competitions.
Athletes from Russia and Belarus have faced sanctions from a multitude of sports since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.
As Moscow’s assault on Ukraine stretches into a second year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has recommended allowing athletes from Russia and Moscow ally Belarus to compete as individual neutrals in international competitions.
Their presence has led to boycotts by Ukrainian athletes.
“At the respective judo and taekwondo championships, the Ukrainian athletes were absent,” Bach said in a speech to the 140th IOC Session in Lausanne.
“Why? Because they had not been allowed to participate following the instructions of the Ukrainian sports ministry. In other words, the Ukrainian athletes are being sanctioned by their own government for the war that has been started by the Russian and Belarusian governments.”
Bach added: “It is really hard to understand why the Ukrainian government is depriving their own athletes from their chance to qualify for the Olympic Games in Paris 2024 and to make the Ukrainian people proud.
“It is hard to understand why Ukrainian athletes are allowed to compete in tennis but not in table tennis, it’s hard to understand why they’re allowed to compete in cycling but not in swimming.
“What the entire Olympic community and in fact the entire world is longing for is Ukrainian athletes shining brightly in international competitions.
“We all want them to have the opportunity to qualify for the Olympic Games in Paris 2024.
“This means participating now in the qualification events so they can make the Ukrainian people proud, showing the resilience of the Ukrainian people and of the Ukrainian Olympic community.”
Shameless political competitions
Bach, who said the stances of both Russia and Ukraine were “diametrically opposed” to that of the IOC, also criticised Moscow for “shamelessly” trying to put together political competitions.
“We will have Games of political bloc A, Games of political bloc B, and separate Games for countries who don’t want to align themselves,” he said.
“Universal Olympic Games will no longer be possible, World Championships in the true sense will no longer be possible.”
The IOC, Bach added, is yet to make a decision on whether Russians can take part at next year’s Paris Olympics.
“We are advancing four equally important elements,” Bach said.
“Our solidarity with Ukraine, our contribution to peace through the unifying commission of sport, our duty to serve all athletes without any discrimination, our sanctions against the Russian and Belarusian states and governments.”
Reiterating his refusal to accept governmental political interference in sport, Bach said: “We must build bridges, not erect walls. We must not deepen divisions.”
Bach praised the Olympic sports of fencing, judo and taekwondo federations for “protecting autonomy of sport” after the three hosted competitions in which Russian and Belarusian athletes took part.
But he also criticised the Polish government for “interfering in the autonomy of sport” after fears over granting of visas to Russian and Belarusian for the European Fencing Championships, which were moved at the last minute to Bulgaria.
Bach contended that both Ukraine and Russia had to do more to align their current stances to that of the IOC position.
“The Russian side wants us to ignore the war, the Ukrainian side wants us to isolate anyone with a Russian and Belarusian passport,” he said.
“Either position is diametrically opposed to our position.
“How do we navigate such a situation? Our answer is very clear, our values are our compass.”
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