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22 Jun, 2023 13:46

Olympics chief condemns Poland for Russian visa ban

Warsaw’s actions violated “the autonomy of sport,” Thomas Bach declared
Olympics chief condemns Poland for Russian visa ban

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach accused the Polish authorities of “interfering in the autonomy of sport,” after they forbade Russian and Belarusian athletes from attending a recent fencing tournament.

The European Individual Fencing championships were held in Bulgaria last week, despite being originally scheduled to be part of the European Games in Poland this week. The International Fencing Federation moved the championships to Bulgaria after the Polish government warned it would deny visas to Russian and Belarusian athletes, whom the IOC cleared in March to compete under a neutral flag.

“The Polish government interfered in the autonomy of sport,” Bach said at a session of the IOC on Thursday, adding that the decision “goes against what we want and what we fight for.”

“If these divisive political forces succeed in their efforts to decide which athlete can compete in which competition, then we will end up with sports competitions only among athletes from like-minded political blocs,” Bach warned.

The IOC sanctioned Russia and Belarus shortly after the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine last year. This March, the organization allowed individual sporting federations to admit Russian and Belarusian athletes under a neutral flag, except those who serve in either country’s military or “actively support the war.” 

For the athletes, participating in national and regional competitions is essential in order to qualify for the Olympic Games in Paris next year.

Bach’s workaround has been condemned by Moscow as discriminatory and “unacceptable,” while Kiev continues to boycott any competition attended by Russian or Belarusian athletes.

“Despite offering a workable pathway forward…we’re still confronted with two irreconcilable positions,” Bach stated on Thursday. Bach condemned Russia for its military operation in Ukraine, but expressed disbelief at the fact that “Ukrainian athletes have been sanctioned by their own government” in response.

“It is really hard to understand why the Ukrainian government is depriving their own athletes of a chance to qualify…and to make the Ukrainian people proud,” he said.