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.”