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30 Dec, 2023 18:01

Olympic boycott could harm Ukrainian athletes – acting minister

Skipping the 2024 Games could result in sanctions on the country, Matvey Bedny has said
Olympic boycott could harm Ukrainian athletes – acting minister

Refusing to take part in the 2024 Olympics for political reasons might turn out badly for Ukraine, the nation’s acting sports and youth minister, Matvey Bedny, said this week. The official was commenting on Kiev’s earlier threat to boycott the upcoming Summer Games in Paris over the International Olympic Committee’s decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete under neutral status.

Russian and Belarusian athletes have been barred from most international events since the outbreak of the conflict between Moscow and Kiev in February 2022, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ruled in early December that they would be allowed to take part in the 2024 Paris Games as “Individual Neutral Athletes.” The move was immediately branded by Kiev as “irresponsible.” Bedny himself said at the time that Ukrainian officials would consider whether the nation will take part in the Games at all.

“We understand that this… will be a blow to our athletes,” the acting minister told the BBC in an interview published on Thursday, adding that Kiev would be “taking a risk” if it follows through on its threat.

The Olympic Charter “prescribes sanctions for such actions,” he said, adding that Ukrainian athletes themselves might be faced with the prospect of competing under a neutral banner at the next Olympics after a boycott. The minister noted that the final decision has not yet been made.

Nevertheless, Bedny maintained that Ukraine will not participate in competitions that welcome athletes “who support Russian aggression” or support Moscow in any way. “This is a fundamental issue for us,” he said, while accusing the IOC of “distorting” the principles of the Olympics.

The minister also dismissed the idea that sports are beyond politics as “populist,” claiming that athletes play a role in propaganda and “cannot be neutral.”

“Why does the state invest money in sports…? What is the point of keeping the Olympians then? Because this is a certain propaganda mechanism, a mechanism for demonstrating the power of the regime, the country as such,” Bedny claimed. He added that, as a former professional athlete, he has no feeling of “sports solidarity” with athletes from Russia or Belarus.

The IOC’s decision in December bars Russian and Belarusian athletes from displaying flags, colors, and other identifying marks connected to their countries, or showing support for Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. Athletes with links to the Russian Armed Forces and security agencies, as well as those who participate in team sports, will remain banned from the Olympics.

Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin called the decision “absolutely discriminatory and going against the basic Olympic principles.” The Russian government will not prevent any athletes from competing under neutral status if they qualify for the Paris Games, the minister added.