Olympic chief accused of ‘blackmailing’ Russian athletes
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach is guilty of attempting to “blackmail” Russian athletes with his conditions for the removal of widespread bans, according to Russian former sports chief Aleksandr Zhukov.
Bach suggested in an interview with Italian media last week that Russians could potentially return from their international sporting exile, but only under neutral status and if they “distance themselves” from the actions of their government amid the conflict with Ukraine.
Former Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) president Zhukov, who is now first deputy chairman of the State Duma, attacked Bach for his suggestion.
“In my opinion, of course this is a provocative statement,” Zhukov told RIA Novosti on Wednesday.
“Once again, sport and politics are being mixed up. This is a kind of blackmail, which in no case should be succumbed to.
“I hope that none of our athletes will take such a step. At least, everyone I asked unequivocally stated that they would not do this,” added Zhukov, who served as ROC president from 2010 to 2018.
Regarding the prospect of the bans on Russian athletes across a wide variety of sports being lifted in time for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Zhukov expressed hope – but cautioned that qualifying was already underway in some sports.
“As far as I know, the IOC Executive Committee will be held at the end of the year, at which the issue (of Russian participation at the Olympics) will be decided,” said Zhukov.
“But unfortunately, in some sports the qualification for the Olympic Games has already begun.”
Zhukov’s dismay at Bach’s comments echoes that of current ROC president Stanislav Pozdnyakov.
Pozdnyakov said last week that the IOC leader was effectively asking Russian athletes to “violate the laws of their country and the Olympic Charter,” should his suggestion become official policy.
Others such as Russian former Olympic ice dance champion Tatiana Navka accused Bach of hypocrisy.
“They themselves say that they are ‘outside of politics’ but ask to involve athletes in politics,” said the 2006 Olympic gold medalist.
“I myself wonder if any of the Russian athletes will take such a step,” Navka added.
Earlier this week, ROC president Pozdnyakov said he was hoping to discuss the matter at the general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) in Seoul later in October.
The IOC initially recommended at the end of February that sports federations impose bans on Russian and Belarusian athletes at global competitions wherever possible, citing Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.