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30 Mar, 2022 17:27

UK wants athletes to sign form promising Putin does not back them

The country's Sports Minister also wants stars to sign a written promise that they will not publicly support Russia, Belarus or Vladimir Putin and are 'genuinely neutral'
UK wants athletes to sign form promising Putin does not back them

Nigel Huddleston, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top sports chief, has revealed plans to ask athletes to sign a form promising that they will not make supportive comments about Russia or Belarus and are not "receiving money" from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The UK Sports Minister said he had a "good meeting" with sporting governing bodies about "sanctions and bans" for individual athletes following plans the Conservative politician initially outlined earlier this month in response to the start of the attack on Ukraine on February 24.

When he was specifically asked about Daniil Medvedev – arguably Russia's most prominent active athlete, who is vying with Novak Djokovic to be world number one – Huddleston said at the time that the government had entered talks with the organizers of London Grand Slam tournament Wimbledon over entry requirements for Russian players.

"We did make the request to governing bodies relating to individual sports people that if [Russians or Belarussians] wish to participate in a UK sport, they are independent and neutral – and genuinely so," he said in his update.

“We wish to get the assurance, in a written declaration, that they are not receiving money from Putin, Russia or Belarus [and] that they will not be making supportive comments of Putin, Russia or Belarus.

"If people are saying they are neutral athletes, we want the assurance that they are genuinely neutral and therefore there isn’t any connection with Putin.

“We are requesting governing bodies or individual events seek that assurance in advance if they are going to allow neutrals to play."

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) is one of a dwindling number of major sporting organizations not to have followed the International Olympic Committee's advice to exile Russian and Belaurisan athletes.

Tennis players from the two nations have continued to compete as neutrals in the wake of the conflict but have been ordered to appear without national symbols.

Reigning US Open champion Medvedev has removed the Russian flag from his social media accounts and said he would accept any decisions imposed by sporting federations or other authorities while calling for peace.

Notable events on the British sporting calendar could follow the lead of Motorsport UK, the organizers of the Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone.

The body said it would not allow competitors from the countries to participate. Russian driver Nikita Mazepin – who has since been abruptly released by American team Haas because of the conflict – had accepted the decision.

“If some individual sports or entities choose to do an outright ban of Russian or Belarussian athletes, then we will support that as well," said Huddleston.

“But if they chose to go down the neutral route, then we are requesting they get that assurance [about allegiances].”

Member of Parliament for Mid Worcestershire Huddleston has been involved in overseeing the sanctions imposed on Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, whose assets were frozen by the UK government because of his alleged ties to Putin.

"I continue to work with the [Chelsea] fans but I was very clear from day one and it's still the case – this is not business as usual," said Huddleston.

"This is a different world because the club's owner has been sanctioned... the whole strategy throughout is to be very, very clear that Roman Abramovich has been sanctioned and that has clearly had implications.

"I was very honest and open with the Chelsea fans [by] saying, 'this will have an impact because he has been sanctioned and he is the owner of the club.'"

Abramovich announced his intention to sell the club on March 2 after almost 19 years in charge but was barred from making the sale as part of sanctions aimed at ensuring he cannot profit from Chelsea.

The Champions League holders are operating under a government licence with restrictions including a block on the club selling merchandise and tickets for home games at Stamford Bridge.

Certain restrictions have now been lifted and fans are now able to buy tickets for away and cup games, with the proceeds going to the Premier League for further distribution.

"We have tried to make reasonable modifications to the licence to enable fans to engage with the club and continue as much as reasonably possible," said Huddleston.

The Chelsea Supporters' Trust (CST) wants supporters to be able to buy tickets for home games.

In a statement on Tuesday, the group said: "The CST is deeply disappointed that we are yet to receive a response from Nigel Huddleston, [Culture Minister] Nadine Dorries or the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on important issues – including clarity on ticketing."