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Ukraine bans its athletes from tournaments where they may face Russians, Belarusians

Ukraine bans its athletes from tournaments where they may face Russians, Belarusians

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KYIV — The Ukrainian Ministry of Youth and Sports issued a ban on national-level athletes entering Olympic and non-Olympic international sports competitions where they might face competitors from Russia or Belarus. 

The ministry also urged Ukrainian sports federations to monitor the participation of both Russians and Belarusians in upcoming competitions, and withdraw their athletes if they are taking part. Many Russian athletes are serving in the Russian army and have supported the invasion of Ukraine.

“We lost diplomatically when the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee and Ministry of Sports failed to persuade IOC [the International Olympic Committee] to ban Russians. Now our athletes have become hostages of this situation,” said Zhan Beleniuk, a Ukrainian lawmaker and 2020 Olympic champion in Greco-Roman wrestling. He had already started preparing for the fall qualification matches to get a license for the 2024 Paris Olympics. But now his participation, as well as that of many other Ukrainian athletes, is in limbo.

The ban follows the recommendation the Ukrainian government made at the end of March. The decision came the day after the International Olympic Committee said Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed to participate in the 2024 Olympics as neutrals — without a national flag or anthem — despite the Ukrainian government’s campaign to have them banned. 

“It is not up to governments to decide which athletes can participate in which international competitions,” the IOC said in a statement.

Referring to Kyiv’s boycott decision, the IOC said that “such a decision would hurt only the Ukrainian athlete community, and in no way impact the war that the world wants to stop, and that the IOC has so vehemently condemned.” 

Some Ukrainian athletes, including Olympian skeleton racer Vladyslav Heraskevych and the Ukrainian Tennis Federation, have criticized the ban, while others, like tennis player Lesia Tsurenko have pulled out of matches against rivals from Russia and Belarus.

Beleniuk said Ukrainian athletes’ careers are now in limbo, as some qualifying matches for the Olympics had already begun. “Nobody expects us at the Olympics without the licenses,” Beleniuk said. “We’re just taking the chance from our athletes to become Olympic champions.”

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