Ukraine president spoke to summit of 35 sports ministers

Sean Ingle

10 Feb 2023

The Guardian

Russia’s presence at next year’s Paris Olympics would be a “manifestation of violence”, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has told a summit of 35 sports ministers chaired by the UK government. “If the Olympic sports were killings and missile strikes, then you know which national team would occupy the first place,” added Zelenskiy, who renewed his calls for all Russians to be banned from the Games.

The International Olympic Committee said last month it was exploring a “pathway” to allow Russian and Belarusian competitors to take part in Paris under a neutral flag.

However, Zelenskiy told the ministers, who included representatives from the US, Canada and across Europe, that these athletes would be forced “to play along with the war propaganda”.

“Terror and Olympism are two opposites – they cannot be combined,” he said. “Russia is now a country that stains everything with blood. The mere presence of representatives of the terrorist state is a manifestation of violence and lawlessness,” he added. “And it cannot be covered up with some pretended neutrality or a white flag.”

Ukraine’s leader also noted that at least 228 of his country’s athletes and coaches had died during the invasion – yet few Russian athletes had spoken out against it. “There is almost no such condemnation,” he said. “There are only a few isolated voices that are quickly fading away. If Russian athletes are allowed to participate in any competitions or the Olympic Games, it is just a matter of time before the terrorist state forces them to play along with the war propaganda.”

The UK culture secretary, Lucy Frazer, who chaired the meeting, said the UK government’s position was for Russian athletes to be banned from the Olympics. “There is a danger here that the world wishes to move on and back to business as usual,” she said. “However, the situation in Ukraine has not changed since the IOC’s initial decision last February on banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from competition. As long as Putin continues his war, Russia and Belarus must not be allowed to compete on the world stage or be represented at the Olympics.”