Country’s Winter Olympians denied special plane ‘because of tensions with Russia’
Czech athletes will not be afforded the luxury of a special plane to travel to the Winter Olympics in Beijing because of tensions with Russia, reports have claimed.
The chairman of the Czech Olympic Committee, Jiri Kejval, is said to have asked the government to provide an aircraft for the country’s winter sporting elite to head the Beijing Games, which formally get underway on February 4.
But according to Kejval, the government rejected the request for reasons related to Russia – and more specifically that arranging a stopover on the way to China might be an issue.
“At the last meeting in mid-December, we received information that when the aircraft belongs to the Ministry of Defense and it is actually a NATO aircraft and the Czech Republic has the relations with Russia that it has, there is a high probability that we will not get visas to make a stopover,” Kejval told Czech news outlet Seznam.
“The plane is not able to fly [the distance] all at once. Unfortunately, we cannot risk whether Russian officials will be nice to us or not.”
Czech Olympians will now have to use a Korean Air flight which will not need to make a stopover, although the option is more expensive.
The Czech government had provided a charter flight for athletes who headed to the Tokyo 2020 Games last summer, although that later came under scrutiny after the team was hit with a spate of Covid cases amid claims those on board didn’t observe the proper protocols.
The Czech delegation heading to Beijing on the Korean Air flight is expected to be around 160 people – half of whom will be athletes – on an aircraft with a capacity of around 270, according to Seznam.
On the subject of Czech-Russian relations, the two countries were involved in a high-profile spat last year when they engaged in tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats.
The row centered on allegations of the involvement of Russian intelligence in a 2014 blast at a military depot in Vrbetice, which Moscow firmly denied.