A Ukrainian skeleton athlete flashed a small sign reading ‘No War in Ukraine’ at the cameras as he completed a race at the Beijing Olympics on Friday night.
Vladyslav Heraskevych’s sign was printed on a piece of blue and yellow paper, matching the colors of his country’s flag. He did not post the message after his second race of the night, which was his fourth and final race of the Olympics.
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“That’s my position. Like all normal people, I don’t want a war,” Heraskevych said after finishing the competition. “I want peace in my country, and I want peace in the world. That’s my position, so I’m fighting for it. I’m fighting for peace.”
The move came as Russia has rounded up more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine, stoking fears in the West that Moscow is planning an invasion. Russia insists it has no such plans, but does not want Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to be allowed to join the Western NATO alliance.
“In Ukraine it’s really nervous now,” Heraskevych said. “A lot of news about guns, about weapons, about what’s going to happen in Ukraine, about some armies around Ukraine. It’s not OK. Not in the 21st century. So I decided, before the Olympics, that I would show my position to the world.”
Shortly after the race, the International Olympic Committee said there would be no repercussions for the athlete. It was questioned whether the court could consider Heraskevych’s action as a violation of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter. This rule states in part that “no kind of political, religious or racial demonstration or propaganda is permitted at Olympic venues, venues or other areas”.
“It was a general call for peace. For the IOC, the case is closed,” the Games’ governing body said on Friday evening.
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Heraskevych said earlier that he was not concerned about possible repercussions.
“I hope the Olympics (will support me) in this situation. Nobody wants war,” said Heraskevych, who was not a medal contender. “I hope this will help… bring peace to our country.”
The IOC has relaxed its rule against protests ahead of the Tokyo Games, allowing athletes to express themselves politically before competitions begin.
As the Games approach, many have braced for possible protests against host country China, which has been accused of widespread abuses against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs. He has also been criticized for his policies towards Tibet, his crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong and the almost total disappearance from public view of tennis player Peng Shuai after he accused a former Communist Party official of sexual assault. .
Concerns over human rights abuses have led several countries to organize a diplomatic boycott of the Games, while Chinese organizers have warned foreign athletes that any statement contrary to Chinese law could be punished.
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Meanwhile, heightened tensions around Ukraine clouded the opening ceremony last week, when IOC President Thomas Bach implored participating countries to respect the long Olympic truce, which calls for an end hostilities during the Games.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was present when Bach spoke, has warmed to China and some have suggested he may not want to invade Ukraine during the Olympics to avoid embarrassing his country. ally, Chinese President Xi Jinping.