Latvia has become the first nation to say they will not compete in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games if athletes from Russia and Belarus are allowed to take part in response to the war in Ukraine
Zorzs Tikmers, President of the Latvian Olympic Committee, said that if athletes from the two countries were allowed to compete in the Games while the war in Ukraine rages on, the Latvian team would boycott the summer Olympics next year.
The International Olympic Committee said last week it was open to including Russian and Belarusian athletes as neutrals at the Games and opened a door to them competing in qualifiers, sparking a furious response from Kyiv.
And now, Tikmers has said Latvia would stand by Ukraine and not send athletes to the Games if Russia and Belarus were allowed to.
Latvia has become the first nation to say they will not compete in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games if athletes from Russia and Belarus are allowed to take part in response to the war in Ukraine (file image)
Ukrainian servicemen adjust a 60mm mortar tube near the frontline in the Donetsk region, on Tuesday
‘Latvia’s position is as follows – if these games were to take place now and athletes from Russia and Belarus would participate in them, I think that the Latvian team would not go to these games,’ Tikmers told Latvian news outlet Delfi.
He added: ‘We hope that the war will end, Ukraine will win it, there will be a completely new situation and new games regulations. Latvian athletes will also be able to participate in such Olympic Games in that case, of course.’
Ukraine is hoping to secure widespread international support for banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in the Games.
Russian forces used Belarus as a launch pad for their attack on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in February last year, and there has been Russian and Belarusian military activity there for months.
Ukraine’s sports minister, Vadym Huttsait, 51, a former Olympic fencing champion, said last night that the idea of allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals was unacceptable.
‘It is impossible for us at a time when the full-scale war is going on, when our athletes, our soldiers are defending our homeland,’ Huttsait said in his Kyiv office, beside a wall with portraits of athletes killed in the war.
Moscow said on Tuesday it would welcome any IOC moves to allow its athletes to compete in the Olympics and demanded its athletes be treated the same as those of other countries.
But hours later the IOC said it was standing by sanctions imposed against the countries over Russia’s invasion.
Stanislav Pozdnyakov, the head of Russia’s Olympic Committee, had argued for full participation.
‘Russians must participate exactly on the same conditions as all other athletes. Any additional conditions or criteria are unwelcome, especially any that have political overtones, which are completely unacceptable for the Olympic movement,’ Pozdnyakov said, according to Russian news agencies.
Pozdnyakov said his organisation welcomed efforts by the IOC to allow Russian athletes to compete.
‘But as for additional conditions, we strongly disagree. The Olympic Charter states that all athletes must participate on an equal footing,’ he added.
The IOC quickly pushed back saying the sanctions against Russia and Belarus had ‘been unanimously confirmed by the recent Olympic summit meeting on December 9’.
Those sanctions included ‘no flag, anthem, colours or any other identifications whatsoever of these countries being displayed at any sports event or meeting, including the entire venue’, said the IOC spokesperson.
Russian army soldiers practice on a military training ground in Russian-controlled Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, on Tuesday
Ahead of the IOC response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia’s participation in the Paris Olympics would amount to showing that ‘terror can allegedly be something acceptable’.
At least 220 Ukrainian athletes and coaches have died in the war, said Huttsait, who won an Olympic fencing team gold in 1992 for the so-called Unified Team, which comprised 12 of the 15 former Soviet republics. He also coached Ukraine’s winning team at the 2008 Games.
‘Ukraine will unite with many countries … and it (Russians competing) will not be allowed,’ he added, saying 40 nations had given Ukrainian athletes housing and training assistance abroad during the war.
The IOC’s initial recommendation to ban Russians and Belarusians has been applied by many sports federations.
But last week, it backed a proposal by the Olympic Council of Asia to allow them to compete in Asia, which could potentially include Olympic qualifying events.
Should that happen, Ukraine’s sporting authorities and athletes will face a ‘very difficult decision’ whether to boycott Paris, Huttsait said.
‘When we lose so many people, so many athletes, the lives of Ukrainians are more important to us than any medal at international competitions,’ he said.
Ukrainian officials have turned on the IOC in recent days for promoting ‘violence, mass murders, destruction’ with the idea of giving Russia a ‘platform to promote genocide.’
Zelensky said on Sunday that allowing Russia to compete in the 2024 Games would amount to showing that ‘terror is somehow acceptable’. Pictured: Zelensky with IOC President Thomas Bach in Kyiv on July 3, 2022
The IOC has called that defamatory and said such words do not promote constructive discussion.
Zelenskiy said ‘only the free world acting together can protect sport from those sports bureaucrats who for some reason are ready to close their eyes to reality.’
On Tuesday, former boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko called on IOC head Thomas Bach not to betray the Olympic spirit and become an ‘accomplice in this abominable war’.
Last week, Zelensky said he had invited IOC president Thomas Bach to visit the frontline Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, ‘so that he can see for himself that neutrality does not exist’.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Monday that of the 71 medals that Russian competitors won at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, 45 went to athletes who were members of the Central Sports Club of the Russian Army, or CSKA.
‘The army that commits atrocities, kills, rapes, and loots,’ Kuleba said. ‘This is whom the ignorant IOC wants to put under (the) white flag allowing (them) to compete.’
Meanwhile, Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said on Tuesday his country opposed any participation of Russian athletes at the Paris Olympics, saying it would be ‘immoral and wrong’.
After a meeting with his counterparts from the Baltic states and Poland in Riga, Rinkevics called for Russia to be isolated as long as it continues its offensive in Ukraine.
‘As all tyrannies do, it uses sports for political purposes. IOC should not become complicit in Russian propaganda efforts,’ Rinkevics said.
The Olympic Council of Asia, however, last week offered Russian and Belarusian athletes the chance to compete in this year’s Asian Games, arguing that ‘all athletes, regardless of their nationality or the passport they hold, should be able to compete in sports competitions’.
That was a significant move because it would allow athletes from those two countries to achieve qualifying standards they would need to compete in Paris.
Moscow is trying to turn the page on years of doping scandals after its teams were forced to compete without their flag or anthem at the Olympics and major international events.