Ukraine athletes ready to boycott any event with Russians – minister
Ukrainian athletes are prepared to boycott any events attended by Russians, even in a neutral capacity, according to Sports Minister Vadim Gutzeit as he renewed demands for a blanket ban at international events.
“If athletes from Russia and Belarus are allowed to participate in competitions, Ukrainian athletes are ready to block their performances and boycott such competitions,” Gutzeit said in a social media message.
Gutzeit claimed that the conflict with Russia “has already taken the lives of over 70 Ukrainian athletes and coaches.”
“Representatives of the Russian Federation are looking for an opportunity to declare themselves in the international arena, performing under a neutral white flag,” Gutzeit argued.
“This is unacceptable. Athletes from these countries cannot participate in international competitions either under their own [Russian flag] or under neutral flags.”
The minister accused any Russian athlete who does not speak out against the conflict of “tacitly” supporting the killings of Ukrainians.
Russian and Belarusian athletes have been barred from a wide range of international competitions following a recommendation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to sports federations at the end of February.
IOC president Thomas Bach has since argued that his organization is only targeting the Russian leadership, and that the bans on Russian and Belarusian athletes are partly for their own safety.
Russian athletes and officials have decried the suspensions as discriminatory and allowing political forces to undermine sporting principles.
Federations in some sports – most notably tennis – have allowed Russian and Belarusian athletes to continue to compete at international events under neutral status.
UK tournament Wimbledon went against governing bodies the ATP and WTA by banning Russian and Belarusian stars from this year’s Grand Slam, partly based on government policy, but organizers were widely criticized and the event was stripped of its rankings points as a punishment.
The US Open confirmed on Tuesday that, like the French Open, it would allow Russian and Belarusian players to compete under neutral status.
The conflict with Russia has seen a number of high-profile Ukrainian sports stars past and present proclaim their commitment to the cause.
Former world boxing champion siblings Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko – the former of whom is mayor of Kiev – have been vocal in their calls for a total boycott of Russian sport.
Ukrainian football icon and former Ballon d’Or winner Andriy Shevchenko recently appeared in a state video calling for the same action, but was subsequently accused in Russia of “being used” by the regime in Kiev.
Retired Ukrainian tennis stars Sergiy Stakhovsky, Andriy Medvedev, and Alexandr Dolgopolov have also shown themselves taking up arms against Russia.
Elsewhere, current Ukrainian boxing icons Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk have made displays of support, although world heavyweight champion Usyk left the country back in March to prepare for his upcoming rematch with Anthony Joshua.
“That's how I will help my country more and it’s better than being in territorial defense and running around Kyiv with a machine gun,” Usyk claimed at the time.