The President of Ukraine invited the head of the IOC to visit Bakhmut because of a quarrel over a ban on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky invited International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach to visit the front-line town of Bakhmut, where Ukrainian soldiers are fighting fierce battles with Russian troops.
Zelenskiy issued the provocative invitation on Friday after the Olympic Committee said it needed to explore a “way” to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in the 2024 Paris Games.
Russia and its ally Belarus have been excluded from participation in most Olympic sports since the invasion of Ukraine.
“I invite Mr. Bach to Bakhmut. So that he can see with his own eyes that neutrality does not exist,” Zelensky said in a speech posted on social networks.
“Obviously, any neutral banner of Russian athletes is stained with blood,” he said.
Bakhmut in the eastern region of Donetsk is currently the epicenter of hostilities in Ukraine.
We know how often tyrannies try to use sport for their own ideological interests. It is obvious that any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood. I invite Mr. Bach to Bakhmut. So that he can see with his own eyes that neutrality does not exist. pic.twitter.com/icSdvgpD87
— Vladimir Zelensky (@ZelenskyyUa) January 27, 2023
Bach said on Friday that Russian and Belarusian athletes could hope to take part in the 2024 Olympics in Paris, but only if they compete under a neutral flag.
The mission is to bring athletes from all over the world together, “especially when their countries are in conflict,” Bach said at a press briefing in the German city of Oberhof.
“The principle is: no Russian or Belarusian athletes,” Bach explained, but “individual, neutral athletes from these countries without any identification with their nationality” can “possibly” compete next year.
However, he stressed that the IOC is only “at the beginning of very detailed consultations” on the matter.
Russian troops have been trying for months to take control of Bakhmut in what Kyiv says is one of the bloodiest battles since the Russian offensive began on February 24 last year.
Zelensky said it was “impossible not to be disappointed” with the position of the head of the IOC.
“I have talked to him more than once and have never heard how he is going to protect sports from military propaganda if he returns Russian athletes to international competitions,” Zelensky said.
“We will do everything for the world to protect sports from the political and any other influence of a terrorist state, which is simply inevitable if Russian athletes compete.”
In a statement Wednesday, the IOC said its executive board had met to consider the matter, with “a vast majority of participants” saying that “no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport” and that “governments should not decide which athletes can compete in which competitions and which can’t.”
Statement of solidarity with Ukraine, sanctions against Russia and Belarus and the status of athletes from these countries👇 https://t.co/OGk1HqoN1N
— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) January 25, 2023
Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadim Gutseit told the IOC that his country plans to boycott the 2024 Games if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete.
“There can be no agreements with representatives of terrorist countries,” Gutzeit said.
“I hope that all federations, athletes and the whole world are paying close attention to this and that we will not have to resort to such extreme means,” Gutzeit warned, referring to Ukraine’s boycott of the Olympics.
Bach said on Friday that excluding athletes solely on the basis of their passport is not in line with human rights requirements. If exceptions were made and athletes with Russian or Belarusian passports were excluded from the Olympics, it would set “an extremely dangerous precedent for world sport,” Bach said, adding that other countries have also been affected by the wars.
“What would you say to an athlete from Yemen, from Iraq, from Libya, from Armenia, from Azerbaijan, from Ethiopia?”
The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) on Thursday invited Russian and Belarusian athletes to take part in this year’s Asian Games.