Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday accused the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of using the Olympic Games as a form of “ethnic discrimination.”
“The games themselves can be used as an instrument of political pressure against people who have nothing to do with politics,” Putin said, according to Russian state-run news outlet TASS. “And as a gross and in fact racist, ethnic discrimination.”
Last week, the IOC banned the Russian Olympic Committee for breaching the Olympic Charter after it claimed regional sports organizations in occupied areas of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia — which should be under the authority of Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee — as members.
Participation of Russian athletes in international sporting events has sparked heated debate since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Earlier this year, the IOC decided that Russian and Belarusian athletes will be allowed to participate in the Games as long as they do so as so-called neutral athletes, without an accompanying national flag or anthem.
Ukraine initially launched a campaign to have Russian and Belarusian athletes banned and threatened to boycott sporting events, but eventually agreed to let its athletes compete against Russians and Belarusians, so long as athletes from those two countries are participating under a neutral banner.
Putin on Thursday said participating in sporting events should be a “human right,” but it has instead become a “privilege.”
“We have learned that an invitation to the Games is not an unconditional right of the best athletes, but a kind of privilege, and it can be earned not by sports results, but by some political gestures that have nothing to do with sports at all,” Putin said.