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The possible participation of Russians in the Olympic Games sows discord between Ukraine and international organizations

As the IOC opens up to Russian and Belarusian athletes at Paris 2024, kyiv accuses the body of promoting war

The possible participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the next Olympic Games in Paris in 2024 –protected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC)– has been a new reason for discussion this week between international organizations and Ukraine and its allies, as that the war advances unstoppably towards its first anniversary.

Sport has historically been a perfect excuse for nations involved in conflict to grant themselves a truce in their hostilities. The so-called ‘Olympic Truce’ is not a modern concept, as in ancient Greece this formula was used to allow the main sporting event to be held in peace.

Thousands of years later, the United Nations took advantage of a 1993 resolution and the Millennium Declaration to recover a concept that had already been outlined previously with the tradition of the Olympic torch relay, aimed at sowing the idea of unity around sport, and by virtue of which the flame travels the planet from Olympia (Greece) to the city that hosts the competition.

In fact, the UN has historically made successive calls to respect the Olympic Truce, a tradition that Russia broke in February 2022 when it began the invasion of Ukraine just four days after the end of the Winter Olympics in the Chinese capital. , Beijing.

With the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the IOC took several measures with the aim of directly pointing fingers at Russia, and its ally Belarus, for the invasion of Ukraine. The main Olympic body prohibited athletes and sportsmen from both countries from participating in sports events under national symbols.

Now, with the Olympic Games in Paris on the horizon, the IOC has opted to allow Russians and Belarusians to participate in the event – always respecting the ban on displaying their banners – in order for the sport to recover its “unifying mission “, as IOC President Thomas Bach rightly said.

This proposal, far from bringing Ukraine and Russia together, has meant a new source of contention between two countries that have barely reached specific agreements -the export of grain and fertilizers and several prisoner exchanges- in the more than eleven months that the conflict ravages Eastern Europe.

From kyiv, the Ukrainian president, Volodimir Zelensky, and some of his main officials, such as the Foreign Minister, Dimitro Kuleba, or the presidential adviser Mikhailo Podoliak, have pointed directly to the IOC for a proposal that, they say, softens the aggression against the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of his country.

While Zelensky adopted a soft speech urging the IOC to “reconsider” its proposal, Kuleba alluded directly to the links between Russian athletes and the military, and Podoliak accused the Olympic Committee of being “a promoter of war, murder and violence.” destruction”.

Faced with the accusations, the IOC has shied away from the conflict and has insisted that, in the event that they finally participate, Russian and Belarusian athletes will attend the Olympic Games in Paris, always in compliance with the aforementioned sporting sanctions that, they say, “They are not negotiable.”

In fact, on Thursday they published a document responding to questions regarding the controversy and in which they clarified that the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in any case could take place for the moment in competitions in Asia and during this year, without alluding in any way. case to the Olympic Games in Paris.

“In none of the documents published by the IOC will you find a reference to the Olympic Games in Paris for athletes with Russian or Belarusian passports,” the organization has remarked, which has indicated that, to this day, “it is not possible to speculate” about participants from Paris.

However, the body has remarked that, in any case, it is talking about “neutral” athletes who would respect the “strict conditions” established to avoid the display of national symbols, as well as compliance with anti-doping regulations.

As usual with the conflict in Ukraine, the controversy has crossed the Russian and Ukrainian borders and has polarized the issue with international organizations in favor of the IOC position, and some of kyiv’s main allies in direct opposition to the measure.

In favor of the IOC proposal, the United Nations stands out, which has supported the organization’s efforts to facilitate the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and thus put an end to the “discrimination” that their exclusion from sporting events entailed. “Athletes should not be discriminated against because of their nationality”, UN experts have pointed out this week.

“The Olympic Committee and, in general, the Olympic community have an imperative obligation to comply with the Olympic Charter and with international Human Rights standards that prohibit discrimination,” said these experts, who despite everything have shown their support for Ukraine, its population and its Olympic community.

Despite everything, the UN and Ukraine agree on the need to avoid by all means that sporting events can somehow become a kind of platform from which Moscow, through its athletes, blows its anti-kyiv stance to the world. .

In the midst of the controversy, the White House came out on Thursday to support the IOC in its proposal, as long as the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes takes place under a neutral flag and avoids representing the aggressor state, Russia, and its main ally, Belarus.

On the opposite side of the balance are the Ukrainian athletes themselves and allies of kyiv, who align themselves with the position of Zelenski and his officials to reproach the IOC for a measure with which they consider that the war still in progress is being whitewashed and they benefit of money stained with the “blood of Ukrainians”.

Perhaps one of the main signs of support for Ukraine has come from the Latvian Olympic Committee, whose president, Zorzs Tikmers, has assured that if the Russian and Belarusian athletes finally participate in the Olympic event, the Latvian delegation will not attend the competition in Paris.

Also from Riga, the Latvian Prime Minister, Krisjanis Karins, has dismissed the IOC’s position as “immoral” and has accused the sports body of drawing shortcuts and seeking tricks so that Russian and Belarusian athletes can participate in competitions, ignoring the declared war for your country.

For its part, Poland, another of the most belligerent countries with Russia and the main support of Ukraine, has raised the possibility of “boycotting” the Olympic event in Paris if Russian and Belarusian athletes attend it.

Despite the fact that there is still a year and a half left for the start of the Olympics in Paris, the organizers of the event in the French capital have been forced to speak out about the controversy, although they have preferred to stand in profile and stick to the guidelines set by the IOC.

A spokesperson for Paris 2024 reminded the US chain CNN this week that the classification system is the responsibility of the International Olympic Committee, with which the organization of the event does not have the ability to maneuver to accept or exclude athletes.

Trying to get over the controversy, the Paris 2024 spokesman reiterated the solidarity of the organizers with the Ukrainian people and the Olympic and Paralympic committees of the European nation, and conveyed his desire that all the participants of the Olympics enjoy the event “in a spirit of peace and respect for the values of brotherhood and solidarity”.

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