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14 Mar, 2022 16:12

Norwegian sports chief resigns over ban on Russians

A member of Norway's Olympic and Paralympic Committee has resigned over the competition ban imposed on Russian and Belarusian athletes
Norwegian sports chief resigns over ban on Russians

A board member of the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports has said he is standing up for his Russian colleagues by resigning following the decision to ban athletes from competition because of the attack on Ukraine.

Former national champion cross-country skier and ski orienteer Oyvind Watterdal does not want to be associated with the move to ban Russians and Belarusians following an appeal by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to leaders across sports.

Less than a week after the conflict began, the IOC publicly asked sports to ban athletes from the countries in order to "protect the integrity" of competitions and ensure athlete safety. 

Russian athletes were told they could not compete at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Games a day before the event started after the International Paralympic Committee changed its mind on allowing them to take part.

Telling the board that the ban had not been discussed sufficiently or widely enough before it was enforced, Watterdal said in an email seen by NRK: "It is a decision that is in sharp conflict with my values ​​and perception of what sports should be."

The confederation is said to have decided that it wanted athletes from the countries excluded during an extraordinary board meeting on February 26.

The outlet reported that Watterdal had emphasized how he did not want his position to be interpreted as support for the conflict or Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I am a strong opponent of the ongoing war and personally know Ukrainians who are both above and below ground who are terrified," said the 34-year-old.

"[The ban] is an extremely big decision. You do not have to do as everyone else does.

"I have no expectations that it will lead to anything but I do this for my own conscience, to stand up for my Russian colleagues and be able to stand and look them in the eye.

"I have received positive feedback from those I have sent messages to internally. There was also one [board member] who said that he respects the decision even if he disagrees."

The Russian paralympic team had already arrived in China when they discovered they would not be competing.

The move left athletes and coaches distraught. Critics say the move is misjudged and represents an unwelcome politicization of sport.

Major sporting bodies including football authorities FIFA and UEFA have banned Russians and Belarusians from taking part in competitions, among a growing list of sporting sanctions imposed since the start of the conflict.

Watterdal said the executive committee should have been involved in the discussions by bosses in Norway.

"We have not had the opportunity to discuss because we have not been invited," he claimed. "I have been against political demonstrations on the podium.

"In general, I do not want to mix politics and sports, so there are probably others who think there is a lot of politics in sports. But there is no excuse."

Responding to NRK by email, the board President, Berit Kjoll, said: "The [board] is quorate when a majority of the members meet. The decision was made in light of several international sanctions that were implemented against Russian authorities from other European countries, the EU and the USA.

"The decision will contribute to the incumbent regime in Russia not being able to use Russian sports achievements internationally for the regime's propaganda purposes.

"We are pleased that several large international sports organizations have made similar decisions."

When he was asked whether the decision had been interpreted as premature, Kjoll said: "I have not experienced that [response].

"Norway has received good feedback on being quick with a clear position in this matter, and we register that other countries and international sports organizations have made similar decisions afterwards."