WARSAW: Russian and Belarusian athletes should be banned from the 2024 Olympics in Paris unless Moscow pulls its forces out of Ukraine, according to Poland, Britain and the Baltic states, despite the International Olympic Committee (IOC) saying it plans to let them compete as neutrals.

The IOC sanctioned Russia and Belarus after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 but is now reluctant to exclude their athletes from the Olympics entirely for fear of a return to the boycotts of the Cold War era.

It set out a pathway in January for competitors from Russia and Belarus to earn Olympic slots through Asian qualifying and to compete as neutral athletes in Paris next year.

“We strongly believe that now is not the time to consider the opening up of a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to the Olympic Games in any status,” the Polish foreign ministry said in a statement issued jointly with Britain, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Neutral athletes are not considered to be representing their nations and their successes are not accompanied by the flying of flags or playing of national anthems.

The President of the IOC Thomas Bach has said that the body cannot be a referee in global political disputes.

However, the plan has faced opposition, with Germany and others coming out in favour of maintaining the ban.

“While the IOC has made no final decisions yet, we strongly urge it to reconsider its plans and return to the original well-proven stance supported by the international community,” the Polish statement said.

“We remind that Russia and Belarus have at their disposal a way forward for their athletes to return to the international sports community, namely ending the war of aggression launched by Russia with complicity of Belarus and restoring respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within the internationally recognised borders.”

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2023

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