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13 Oct, 2022 13:30

Political interference has triggered ‘crisis’ in sport – minister

Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin said Russia will stand up for the rights of its athletes
Political interference has triggered ‘crisis’ in sport – minister

The politicization of sport is fueling a crisis within the Olympic Movement, but Russia will continue to stand for the principles of friendship and respect for the rules, Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin has said.

Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned from a wide variety of sports at a global level following a recommendation by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the end of February because of the conflict in Ukraine.

There are already suggestions from the likes of honorary IOC member Craig Reedie that Russian and Belarusian athletes will be forced to miss the Paris 2024 Olympic Games because they are not cleared in time for qualifying events.

Russian Sports Minister Matytsin expressed his hope that those fears will not become reality, but hit out at what he described as the “political” forces which are driving anti-Russian and Belarusian sporting sanctions.  

“I hope that a decision will be made on the entry of our athletes to the [2024] Olympic Games, it is no longer possible to politicize sports in the way which is being done now, this generates a crisis in the Olympic Movement itself,” Matytsin said at a conference in Minsk on Thursday.

The sports minister pointed to the recent decision by the International Boxing Association (IBA) to reverse its ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes and allow them to return to competition with their national flags and anthems.  

“Others, I hope, will follow this example,” said Matytsin, according to TASS. “But we must live with the existing reality, we are actually creating new models of organizing sports in our countries, while a very important aspect is the provision of modern equipment [to athletes].

“The basic Olympic principles are friendship, respect for the rules, and culture. We live in a time when we must realize these opportunities.”

Matytsin said other countries would look towards Russia and Belarus, and their ability to withstand the sanctions imposed on them.    

“Now other countries are watching how we overcome this crisis – it could affect any country if the IOC sets its sights on such powerful sporting nations as Russia and Belarus,” said Matytsin.  

“If we stand up, it is a guarantee that the Olympic Movement will survive, if there is an opportunity to shake us in some way, 100% other countries will not be able to withstand international pressure.

“Therefore, our voice must be heard, the media is also an important aspect... The voices of our Olympians, sports heroes, must be loud and clear, not only the voices of officials.”

Russian sports officials have criticized the IOC for its recommendation that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be excluded from global competitions wherever possible.

In particular, IOC president Thomas Bach has been accused of allowing politics to undermine the rights of sportsmen and women, with the bans being described as discriminatory.

Russian Olympic high jump champion Mariya Lasitskene has been outspoken in her criticism of Bach, branding him “hypocritical” for his stance.

Matytsin urged the IOC chief to listen to the voices of Russian athletes such as Lasitskene who are suffering because of the sweeping suspensions.

“Let’s listen to the voices of the Olympians,” said Matytsin. “As Thomas Bach says, Olympians are the heart of the Olympic Movement.

“Then we must respect our heroes, our Olympians. They say that they should not be limited or discriminated against for some political reasons.”

Bach suggested in comments to Italian media last month that Russian and Belarusian competitors could return to international tournaments, but only if they are willing to “distance themselves” from the actions of their governments.

Those remarks immediately met resistance within Russia, where Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) president Stanislav Pozdnyakov said such demands would violate the Olympic Charter.