The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ukraine to lobby for ban of Russian athletes from Paris Olympics

Ukraine plans to try lobby other countries to push the International Olympic Committee to exclude Russian athletes from the 2024 Summer Olympics. (David J. Phillip/AP)
4 min

A week after the International Olympic Committee reaffirmed plans to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete at the 2024 Paris Olympics, Ukraine said it plans to lobby other countries to push back against those plans, and did not rule out boycotting the Summer Games.

“We cannot compromise on the admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes,” said Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Huttsait, who also heads the country’s Olympic committee.

“As a last option, but I note that this is my personal opinion, if we do not succeed, then we will have to boycott the Olympic Games.”

The Ukrainian position followed a committee meeting during which members approved plans to lobby sports officials in other countries in the next two months. Members discussed a boycott but did not commit to one.

That effort received support from the leaders of several European nations in recent days, including Poland, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on Friday urged the IOC to ban Russian athletes because of the war in Ukraine, with Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas saying, “I think that our efforts should be on convincing our other friends and allies that the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes is just wrong. So boycotting is the next step. I think people will understand why this is necessary.”

The Latvian Olympic Committee on Wednesday threatened to boycott the 2024 Olympics if Russian athletes are allowed, a proposition its prime minister, Arturs Krisjanis Karins, called “morally reprehensible.”

U.S. snowboarders allege sexual abuse by coach, lack of oversight

Poland Sport and Tourism Minister Kamil Bortniczuk told Reuters on Thursday he believed a coalition of “over 30 or maybe 40” countries may support calls to bar athletes from Russia and Belarus, its ally in the war, by the end of next week.

“I’m convinced that a meeting that is planned for Feb. 10 will reach a conclusion of over 30 or maybe 40 sports ministers, including those from the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia and Japan, to decisively reject the idea to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part in the Games,” he said.

The IOC last week reiterated its stance that “no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport,” adding that “a pathway for athletes’ participation in competition under strict conditions should therefore be further explored.” That statement came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian athletes should be excluded from the Paris Olympics.

Support for that position intensified throughout this week as European political leaders have backed a ban against Russian athletes, even, in some cases, if they participate as “neutral” competitors without the country’s flag.

As Poland and the Baltic nations on Thursday called on international sports bodies to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes, Bortniczuk, the Polish politician, said he believes it will be possible to bolster support for that position over the next week. “If we were to boycott the Games, the coalition we will be a part of will be broad enough to make holding the Games pointless,” he said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday that the United States “worked to hold Russia accountable for the brutal and barbaric war,” but added: “In cases where sports organizations and event organizers, such as the International Olympic Committee, choose to permit athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate in sporting events, it should be absolutely clear that they are not representing the Russian or Belarusian states,”

Amid growing resistance, French leaders have said the decision will fall to the IOC.

Tony Estanguet, head of the Paris 2024 organizing committee, told Reuters on Friday, “it’s not in the charge of Paris 2024 to decide who is allowed to participate, it’s about the IOC, it’s about the [International Paralympic Committee], it’s about the international federations who will decide which delegations will be allowed to participate.”