IOC's statement is another challenge to Ukraine on sports front
As Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine continues for almost a year, the IOC is actively promoting the idea of returning Russians and Belarusians to the Olympic Games in Paris. Given the importance of sports in the Kremlin's propaganda machine, Russia will try to implement this plan through its intermediaries. What did the IOC mean, and why will the access for Russians and Belarusians to the competition have catastrophic consequences?
IOC's position: we stand with Ukraine, but "not everything is so unambiguous"
In its recent scandalous statement, the IOC noted three areas of its work at once. The first was about helping Ukraine and our athletes during the Russian invasion. The statement referred to continuing aid to Ukrainians. There was also a call to international federations: to help our athletes with training in every possible way.
There can be no claims to the International Olympic Committee in this area. The IOC, chaired by Thomas Bach, created the so-called "Solidarity Fund" to help Ukrainian athletes. At the end of last year, Ukraine's National Olympic Committee reported that 137 projects to support Ukrainian athletes had been implemented thanks to the work of the fund.
Thomas Bach also repeatedly spoke about the fund itself, in particular during his visit to Kyiv. It was there that the IOC president announced an increase in the fund's budget from EUR 2.5 million to EUR 7.5 million.
Another aspect of the work mentioned in the statement was the extension of sanctions against Russians and Belarusians. The IOC once again noted that it prohibits the holding of international competitions organized or supported by international federations or Olympic committees of other countries in Russia and Belarus. In addition, the International Olympic Committee announced that it bans the display of flags, anthems, colors or any other identifications of Russia and Belarus at the competitions.
After that, the main thing was mentioned in the statement: the possible access for Russians and Belarusians to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. The IOC noted that "no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport." Perhaps the problem is not in the passport, but in the war of aggression by the country that they represent on the international stage? Unfortunately, no one asked this question.
Ukraine is against. A possible boycott of the 2024 Olympic Games
According to Vadym Guttsait, the Minister of Youth and Sports and the President of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine, the Ukrainian side was expecting a similar scenario. The minister noted that Thomas Bach himself raised the issue of Russians being allowed to take part in the Olympics during the latest IOC summit.
Guttsait in his speech once again emphasized that Russian athletes should be excluded from all competitions as long as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues. Moreover, he noted that as long as Russian troops stay on Ukrainian territory, it is absurd to talk about the return of Russian athletes. On his Facebook page, the minister was more radical and suggested that Ukraine would boycott the Olympic Games if Russian athletes were allowed to participate.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky proposed that Thomas Bach visit Bakhmut and see with his own eyes that neutrality does not exist.
IOC's double standards
After the statement by the International Olympic Committee, a number of active and retired Ukrainian athletes, including Lilia Podkopayeva, Daria Bilodid, Oleg Verniaiev, Oleksiy Sereda and others, spoke out against the IOC's proposal. Russian athletes are the details of one big propaganda machine of the Kremlin. It is too easy to prove that.
It is enough to watch any public speech by Russian President Putin and count the number of Russian athletes standing next to him. At one of the latest concerts at the Luzhniki stadium, gymnasts Viktoria Listunova, the Averina sisters, figure skaters Victoria Sinitsina, Nikita Katsalapov, Evgenia Tarasova, Vladimir Morozov, and swimmer Evgeny Rylov came to support the Russian dictator from the stage. Moreover, each of them took an Olympic medal with them.
Thomas Bach would counter this with one of the quotes from the IOC's official statement. It said that the athletes would be checked for their support of the Russian invasion.
This is a weak argument for many reasons. Is actual membership in the Russian army considered support for the invasion of Ukraine? For example, at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, at least 34 Russian athletes were service members, including 15 of them being officers.
There is something that the IOC president will not be able to deny. President Zelensky said that as of December 14, 2022, 184 Ukrainian athletes have died at the hands of Russia since the full-scale invasion. The list of athletes who died for Ukraine's independence can be found on the website of the Sports Committee of Ukraine. According to updated figures from the Minister of Youth and Sports of Ukraine, 320 sports facilities were damaged due to Russian shelling.
The situation with the participation of Russians and Belarusians in the Olympics should be considered only through the prism of war. If they can compete in competitions of this level, then Russian propaganda will get new material for its stories. Then there will be motivational videos with athletes who are members of the Russian army. Against this background, another motivated cannon fodder will go to war in Ukraine.
Sergiy Stakhovsky will be a conditional athlete to stop the Russian onslaught. An athlete who also did not choose a passport. He chose freedom.
If Mr. Bach does not understand the scope of the problem and wants to consult about the access for Russians and Belarusians to the Olympics, then he should do this only with people like Stakhovsky. There are enough athletes in Ukraine who defend their homes with weapons in their hands.
Photo credit: mms.gov.ua, instagram.com, noc-ukr.org
Vitaliy Tkachuk, Kyiv
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