Bach Calls Out Ukraine for Sanctioning Its Own Athletes at Annual IOC Session

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach criticized Ukraine for its ongoing boycott of events featuring Russian or Belarusian competitors during the 140th IOC Session on Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland.

In March, a little over a year after Russia invaded Ukraine last February, the IOC recommended allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to international competition as neutrals without their flag or anthem. Soon after, the Ukrainian government announced that its athletes would not attend any Olympic qualifying events for the Paris 2024 Games where Russians are competing.

“At the respective judo and taekwondo championships, the Ukrainian athletes were absent,” Bach said. “Why? Because they had not been allowed to participate following the instructions of the Ukrainian sports ministry. In other words, the Ukrainian athletes are being sanctioned by their own government for the war that has been started by the Russian and Belarusian governments.

“It is really hard to understand why the Ukrainian government is depriving their own athletes from their chance to qualify for the Olympic Games in Paris 2024 and to make the Ukrainian people proud,” he continued. “It is hard to understand why Ukrainian athletes are allowed to compete in tennis but not in table tennis, it’s hard to understand why they’re allowed to compete in cycling but not in swimming.

“What the entire Olympic community and in fact the entire world is longing for is Ukrainian athletes shining brightly in international competitions,” Bach added. “We all want them to have the opportunity to qualify for the Olympic Games in Paris 2024. This means participating now in the qualification events so they can make the Ukrainian people proud, showing the resilience of the Ukrainian people and of the Ukrainian Olympic community.”

Bach claimed he could not satisfy both Ukraine and Russia while staying true to the IOC’s Olympic mission of unity. He reiterated that a final decision on Russian and Belarusian participation at the Paris 2024 Olympics, noting “there still remains plenty of time for that decision to be taken.”

“Despite offering a workable pathway forward with our values-based recommendations, we are still confronted with two irreconcilable positions,” Bach said. “The Russian side wants us to ignore the war. The Ukrainian side wants us to totally isolate anyone with a Russian and Belarusian passport. Either position is diametrically opposed to our mission and the Olympic Charter.”

Bach went on to say that the Ukrainian government considers “everyone with a Russian or Belarusian passport to be a supporter of the war.” The 69-year-old German chief also accused Ukraine of going so far as barring athletes with intellectual disabilities from competing at the ongoing Special Olympics.

Ukrainian artistic swimmers Maryna and Vladyslava Aleksiiva spoke out last month against their home country’s policy of boycotting Olympic qualifying events where Russians are allowed to compete. The sisters captured Olympic bronze medals in Tokyo two summers ago.

“Maybe from our side we must do something with our (policy), to change it,” Vladyslava told French media AFP. “So that we can go to championships where there will be Russians. Because it’s stupid that they can go — but they kill people — and we didn’t do anything and we can’t go.”

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1 year ago

Bach’s gotta go. USOPC and other national Olympic organizations need to step up and put the IOC in its place.

1 year ago

When you are faced with two irreconcilable demands, leadership requires that you make a decision and prepare to explain and justify that choice. It does not mean doing nothing, and it does not mean pretending that ‘neutrality’ and a desire for unity require seeing the two options as being of equal moral value. Abject failure of leadership looks like what Bach and the IOC are achieving.

1 year ago

He fails to acknowledge the connection between the Russian state and Russian sport. Unwittingly or not they are an extension of the overall aims and ambitions of the Kremlin. The neutral flag workaround is an Emperor’s New Clothes farce. They are still funded and supported by said state for the same goals. However much some may wish you cannot disentangle them.

1 year ago

It’s been over 40 years, Thomas… we know you didn’t get to compete in Moscow and you’re still mad about that. But maybe… just maybe… today’s athletes’ egos aren’t as fragile as yours. Grow up!

1 year ago

Bach is an absolute disgrace. The Russians should compete against themselves somewhere in Siberia.

I bet World Aquatics (under their corrupt captain) will allow Russia and Belarus back after Fukuoka. If that happens it’s an absolute travesty.

1 year ago

Thomas Bach and everyone else who supports athletes from Russia and Belarus being allowed to compete in Paris 2024 should be forced to spend a week on the frontlines in battle with Ukrainian troops. And those who survive can voice their opinions after.

1 year ago

What a dreadful and petty minded man! The spirit of Olympic openness to all comers was warranted after both world wars when the goal was to bring the people of the world back together.

But when Japan invaded China in 1937, the 1940 Games were relocated from Tokyo to Helsinki (of course WWII started in 1939 and the Games were cancelled).

The Head of the IOC then didn’t close his eyes to the horrors of the invasion of Manchuria and pretend that the Games should go on unaltered.

Mr. Bach, to his shame, looks at the invasion of and horrors in Ukraine very differently.

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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