Ukraine says IOC retreating on principles over Russian athletes

FILE PHOTO: IOC Executive Board meeting in Lausanne
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KYIV/WARSAW (Reuters) - Ukraine's authorities suggested on Wednesday the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was retreating from its principles by recommending Russian and Belarusian athletes take part in international competitions as neutrals amid a war in Ukraine.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, said there were "elements of discrimination" in the IOC'S announcement on Tuesday, which would deprive its athletes of national symbols in competition.

The IOC issued recommendations for the gradual return to international competitions for Russians and Belarusians, with IOC President Thomas Bach saying their participation "works" despite the war in Ukraine.

Several of Ukraine's allies have also rallied to condemn the move. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday he would work to build a coalition to seek the withdrawal of what he said was a "bad and wrong decision". Warsaw had a day earlier described the IOC's recommendations as shameful.

The IOC imposed sanctions on Russia and Belarus after Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a "special military operation", but it now wants athletes across all sports to have a chance to qualify for the Paris Games.

However, the recommendations made by the IOC executive board concern the return of athletes to international competitions but not specifically the 2024 Paris Olympics, for which a separate decision will be taken at a later date.

"We have consistently advocated and will continue to insist that under the conditions of the unprecedented unprovoked military aggression of the Russian Federation with the support of the Republic of Belarus against Ukraine, which contradicts the principles of the Olympic Charter, representatives of aggressor states should not be present at international sports arenas," Ukraine's Ministry of Youth and Sports said.

It accused the IOC of a "partial change of the position".

The IOC has set a pathway for Russians and Belarusians to earn Olympic slots through Asian qualifying but has faced headwinds, with Ukraine and some of Kyiv's allies threatening to boycott the Games should they compete there, even as neutrals.

The guidelines say athletes from Russia and Belarus cannot take part in team events and must have a proven drugs testing record, while those who support the war or are contracted to their countries' military or national security agency are excluded.

"Such recommendations were characterised as containing elements of discrimination, which is unacceptable," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

"We will continue to defend the interests of our athletes in every possible way," he said.

World Athletics, governing body of the Olympic Game's number one sport, last week decided to keep Russians and Belarusians banned from all its events for the foreseeable future due to the Ukraine war.

A dozen countries boycotted this month's women's world boxing championships in protest at the presence of Russians and Belarusians at the event.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv and Alan Charlish, Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk in Warsaw; Editing by Edmund Blair and Ed Osmond)