Neutral Russian flags at Olympics would be ‘stained with blood’, says Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky opposes the International Olympic Committee’s suggestion that Russian and Belarusian athletes could participate in future IOC events if they do so under “neutral” flags.

“There is no neutrality when a war like this is going on,” Zelensky said in a video address Friday to the people of Ukraine. “It is obvious that any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood.”

Zelensky was reacting to an IOC statement released earlier this week explaining its position on the future of Russian athletes. The statement also covered athletes from Belarus, which served as an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin throughout the war.

The IOC statement proposes maintaining the sanctions currently in place against Russia and Belarus. These include banning either country from hosting IOC events, banning Russian and Belarusian flags from being displayed at events, and refusing invitations to IOC events. Russian or Belarusian government and state officials.

As for individual athletes, the IOC said none “should be prevented from competing simply because of their passport”.

Athletes from Russia and Belarus could be allowed to participate in IOC events, including the upcoming 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, if they do so as “neutral athletes”. These athletes would not be allowed to serve as official representatives of their country. Any athlete who supports the war in Ukraine would not be allowed to compete.

The Olympic logo is pictured in front of the Olympic House of the International Olympic Committee on June 18, 2019 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday objected to the IOC’s recent statement that athletes from Russia and Belarus could be allowed to participate in future IOC events under “neutral” flags.
Robert Hradil/Getty Images

The IOC mentioned its continued solidarity with Ukrainian athletes and encouraged event organizers to “undertake all possible efforts to facilitate the training, preparation and participation of Ukrainian athletes in international sporting events”.

Ukrainian athletes and the Global Athlete group issued a joint statement on the IOC’s decision, saying it “sends a message” that the committee “approves of Russia’s brutal war and invasion of Ukraine”.

By opening the doors to the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes, “the IOC strengthens the Russian propaganda machine, strengthens Putin’s regime and undermines peace,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) said the IOC’s decision was seen as “an attempt to take a step forward towards the athletes”, even if the sanctions remain in place.

“The voice of common sense has been heard,” ROC chairman Stanislav Pozdnyakov said, according to an English translation. He added that the ROC continues to “categorically disagree with all restrictions, additional requirements and sanctions related to the nationality of our athletes and which are again offered to us as a condition of returning to the international stage”.

Last month, Zelensky urged IOC President Thomas Bach to accept Russia’s “complete isolation” “on the international stage”. In his final comments on Friday, Zelensky said he was “disappointed” with Bach’s recent statements on the matter.

“I spoke with him several times,” Zelensky said. “And I never heard how he was going to protect the sport from war propaganda if he sent Russian athletes back to international competitions.”

Zelensky then extended an invitation for Bach to visit Bakhmut, a town in Ukraine’s Donbass region where fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops has intensified, “so that he can see with his own eyes that neutrality does not exist”.

In mid-December, Zelensky said 184 Ukrainian athletes had died since the Russian invasion began in late February 2022.

“The Russian strikes claimed the lives of hundreds of Ukrainian men and women who could have contributed their talents to world sports,” he said on Friday.

Looking ahead, Zelensky said Ukraine “will do everything to ensure that the world protects sport from political influence and any other influence of the terrorist state, which is simply unavoidable if Russian athletes participate in competitions. And especially at the Olympic Games in Paris”.

Newsweek contacted the IOC for comments.


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