Olympic chief holds call with ‘disappointed’ Zelensky
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has repeated his calls for the “complete isolation” of Russian athletes, as he spoke to the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, in a telephone call on Wednesday.
An IOC summit in Switzerland last week stated that the exile of large numbers of Russian and Belarusian athletes on the international stage – enforced because of the conflict in Ukraine – could be coming to an end.
The IOC said it would explore a proposal to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutrals at events under the auspices of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA).
The step could pave the way for athletes to ensure they have a chance to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
The news was not well received by Ukrainian leader Zelensky, according to a statement issued by his office following the call with Bach this week.
“[President] Zelenskyy expressed disappointment with the presence of the president of the Russian Olympic Committee at the IOC summit on November 9 and with the intentions to return Russian and Belarusian athletes to international competitions under a neutral flag,” read the statement.
The message claimed that “the silence of athletes, coaches and officials condones aggression, and Russia uses sports for propaganda purposes.”
The Ukrainian leader argued that the only “fair response to such actions” was “complete isolation” for Russia on the international stage – including at sports events.
The IOC statement acknowledged Zelensky’s stance, although Bach repeated the position that sport must not be undermined by political forces, as recognized by the Olympic Charter and a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly at the start of December.
The IOC again expressed “solidarity” with Ukraine amid the conflict with Russia, and noted the $7.5 million fund it had set up in aid for Kiev.
While Zelensky “appreciated” those efforts, the president requested “more support in particular for the reconstruction of destroyed sports facilities in Ukraine,” according to the IOC statement.
The latest contact comes after Bach and Zelensky met face-to-face in Kiev back in July.