PARIS/KYIV — Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee threatened Friday to boycott the 2024 Paris Olympics, as international divisions emerge over whether Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed to compete.
The International Olympic Committee has drawn fury in Kyiv after it said it was working on a pathway for Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes under certain conditions. Athletes from both countries have been excluded from many international sports events since Russia launched its all-out war on Ukraine last year.
On Friday, Ukrainian sporting figures called on the international community to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes. “The war is not over. Civilians, athletes are dying,” said Marta Fedina, a professional synchronized swimmer from Ukraine.
“How can we even talk about the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes? It’s not fair … Our athletes have to train in harsh conditions, with generators — conditions unequal with the ones [they] have,” she added during a press conference in Kyiv.
After a meeting of Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee on Friday, its president Vadym Hutsayt raised the possibility of a boycott of the Paris Games, but said Ukrainians would first focus on rallying support for a total ban of Russians and Belarusians in 2024.
Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy slammed the IOC and its chief Thomas Bach over its proposal to reintegrate Russians and Belarusians, calling for a total ban and inviting Bach to visit the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut — which Ukraine has been defending against a concentrated Russian attack for months — to see what “neutrality” looks like.
On Thursday, the IOC sought to explain why it wanted to reintegrate the athletes for the summer Games and hit back at Kyiv over threats to boycott. “It is extremely regretful to escalate this discussion with a threat of a boycott at this premature stage,” it said.
The row has escalated into an international dispute with Poland and the Baltic countries also calling for a total ban on Russians and Belarusians, and raising the threat of a boycott of the Paris Games.
In France, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, as well as figures from the right and the left, have come out in favor of including Russians and Belarusians as neutrals, arguing against barring athletes because of where they happen to come from.
French President Emmanuel Macron said in November that sports “shouldn’t be politicized” — though he went on to hold political meetings at the Qatar 2022 World Cup, and has previously put his thumb on the scale to fight off the European Super League, when the breakaway football competition launched and immediately collapsed in April 2021.