Poland expects sizable coalition calling on Russian, Belarusian Olympic ban

Photo: Photo by Marc Piasecki/Getty Images

Poland believes it will be possible to build a coalition of some 40 countries, including the U.S., Britain, and Canada, by February 10 supporting the call to block Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2024 Olympics, a Polish minister said on Thursday.

The Baltic States and Poland earlier on Thursday called on international sports bodies to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in the Olympics and other events while the war in Ukraine continues.

“I'm convinced that a meeting that is planned for February 10 will reach a conclusion of over 30 or maybe 40 sports ministers including those from the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and Japan to decisively reject the idea to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part in the Games,” Poland's Sport and Tourism Minister Kamil Bortniczuk said.

“Considering this I don't think we will face tough decisions before the Olympics and, if we were to boycott the Games, the coalition we will be a part of will be broad enough to make holding the Games pointless.”

U.S. support

The United States supports suspending Russian and Belarusian sport governing bodies from international sports organizations and is encouraging organizations to suspend the broadcasting of sports competitions in both countries, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. If athletes were permitted to participate in events such as the Olympics, “it should be absolutely clear that they are not representing the Russian or Belarusian states,” she said, adding that their flags, emblems and anthems should also be prohibited. The International Olympic Committee announced last week that athletes from the two countries, banned from competing in Europe, might be allowed to earn slots for the Paris 2024 Games through Asian qualifying. However, the IOC later said it stood by sanctions imposed against Russia and Belarus.

“Any effort by the International Olympic Committee to bring back Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete, even under a neutral flag, should be rejected,” sports ministers from Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland said in a statement on Thursday.

“Efforts to return Russian and Belarusian athletes to international sports competitions under the veil of neutrality legitimize political decisions and widespread propaganda of these countries,” it added.

They called on “all international sports organizations and federations” to remove Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions until the war ends.

Strong supporters

The three Baltic states and Poland, members of the European Union and NATO which border Russia and Belarus, have been strong supporters of Ukraine and among the first to send weapons following Moscow's invasion almost a year ago.

Russia says it is defending its own security and denies accusations of widespread atrocities in Ukraine.

Latvia joined Kyiv on Wednesday in threatening to boycott the 2024 Olympics and qualifiers if Russian and Belarusian athletes are included while the war continues in Ukraine.

Athletes from Russia and its neighbor Belarus, which aided Moscow's invasion of Ukraine a year ago, have been banned from many international competitions since.

However last week, the IOC said the Olympic Council of Asia had offered Russian and Belarusian athletes the chance to compete in Asia, drawing an outcry from Kyiv which has called for Russian sportspeople to be banned over Russia's invasion.

Athlete killed in action

Family and friends of Ukrainian decathlete Volodymyr Androshchuk bid farewell on Wednesday to the promising sportsman turned soldier killed in combat with Russia, weeping as they lined up at his open coffin.

At his funeral in the western Ukrainian town of Letychiv, friends of the 22-year-old, who volunteered for the military and was hit by shrapnel in Bakhmut last week, were vehement that Russians should be excluded from the Olympics. They were bitter that Androshchuk lost the chance to compete on the world's most prestigious sports stage.

Russians have competed as neutrals with no flag or anthem in the past three Olympics as punishment for state-backed doping.

The Paris Olympics will be held from July 26-August 11 next year and the Paralympics from August 28-September 8.