Ukrainian President: Russians Have “No Place” in upcoming Olympics

February 10, 2023

President Volodymyr Zelensky repeated an assertion made by other Ukrainian offiicials: Russian athletes have “no place” at next year’s Paris Olympic games if the invasion of Ukraine continues.

Zelensky spoke via video link to a summit of sports officials from some 30 countries on Friday. “While Russia kills and terrorizes, representatives of the terrorist state have no place at sports and Olympic competitions,” Zelensky said.

His assertion echoed the Ukrainian sports minister Vadym Guttsait’s renewed threat last week to boycott the Olympic games in Paris, should Russia—and its ally in the war, Belarus—be allowed to compete.

This Thursday Guttsait added, “The participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competitions will make it impossible for Ukrainian athletes to take part in them because each of the Ukrainians suffered from Russian aggression in one way or another.”

So far, no nation has said it would boycott the 2024 Olympics under those circumstances. However, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said Tuesday that Russia should be blocked from taking part in the 2024 Paris Olympics if it continues its war against Ukraine. Hidalgo did acknowledge, however, that the ultimate decision is up to the International Olympic Committee, but during a visit to Kyiv on Thursday she vowed to “do everything” to convince the IOC.

Friday’s summit meeting was held online and chaired by British Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer. She said in a statement on Thursday, “President Zelensky told the UK in Parliament this week of the suffering still being felt by many Ukrainians. As he did so the IOC was continuing to ignore the international allies stepping up their efforts for peace and disregard how the Olympics will give [Russian President Vladimir] Putin the perfect platform to promote Russia and legitimize his illegal war.”

The IOC last year backed excluding Russians and Belarusians from sporting events on safety grounds. Last week the committee reversed course, arguing that Russians should be allowed to compete under a neutral flag, that anything else would breach the “rights of all athletes to be treated without any discrimination, in accordance with the Olympic Charter.”

However, the committee has given the federations running individual Olympic sports the final say on the details of readmitting athletes from these two countries.

Olympic qualifiers are under way in some sports already and start soon in many others, adding pressure on the federations. 

Ukraine is particularly concerned that Russian athletes from military sports clubs or who hold military ranks could compete in the Olympic games.

“In Russia, sport is an element of politics, powerful propaganda, in this case the promotion of war,” Guttsait wrote in a letter to IOC President Thomas Bach and other Olympic leaders that was published Thursday.

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