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Ukraine threatens to boycott Paris Olympics if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete

Ukraine’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Oleh Nemchinov, has announced that Ukrainian athletes will not participate in any Olympic qualifying events that include Russian athletes. The The International Olympic Committee(IOC) had called on federations to exclude athletes from Russia and Belarus following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

IOC had previously recommended that Russian and Belarusian athletes be allowed to participate under a neutral flag. However, Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Paris Games if the ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes is not upheld. The IOC has said it will “explore a pathway” to allow athletes from those nations to participate in the Games, but Ukraine’s decision could see federations sanctioned and lose their national status.

While the new recommendation extends to individual athletes and not teams, the IOC has yet to make a decision on whether Russians and Belarusians can compete at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

IOC President Thomas Bach claimed that the inclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competition has already been shown to work. However, several athletes opposed to their readmission have disputed his claim. Ukrainian tennis player Marta Kostyuk, for example, won against Russian Varvara Gracheva in the ATX Open final this month, and refused to shake her opponent’s hand after winning her first WTA title. Kostyuk also refused to shake the hand of Belarusian Victoria Azarenka at the US Open in September. Kostyuk said that she was worried about losing her ranking if she did not participate, but that she and other Ukrainian players had been fighting for the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes from their sport for the last year.

Fellow Ukrainian tennis player Lesia Tsurenko said that facing Russians is an “ethical conflict,” and that it had affected her so that she had kind of panic attacks. Nemchinov acknowledged the concerns of the athletes, but urged them to consider the larger picture, saying, “But your life and that of your children will remain.” The United Kingdom is among 36 countries to have pledged support for an ongoing ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes.

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