LONDON, Feb 20 (Reuters) – More than 30 countries, including the United States, Britain and France, on Monday pledged their support for banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in international sporting events, a British government statement said.
The move increases the pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is desperate to avoid the 2024 Paris Olympics being torn asunder by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Monday’s statement follows recent proposals from the IOC which suggest a pathway is being explored to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to competition as neutrals, including at next year’s Olympics.
“There are serious concerns about how feasible it is for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete on a neutral basis given they are directly funded and supported by their states,” added the British government statement.
Paris 2024 organisers insisted at the beginning of the month that they would abide by the IOC decision on Russian and Belarusian athletes’ participation in the games guides.
However, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said there should be no Russian delegation at the Paris Olympics as long as the Ukraine war, which Moscow calls a ‘special operation’ is ongoing.
Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Games if Russian and Belarusian athletes compete and Ukrainian world and 2012 Olympic heavyweight champion boxer Oleksandr Usyk has said Russians will win “medals of blood, deaths and tears” if allowed to take part.
Such threats have revived memories of boycotts in the 1970s and 1980s during the Cold War era that still haunt the global Olympic body today, and it has called on Ukraine to drop them.
The IOC has said a boycott would violate the Olympic Charter and its inclusion of Russians and Belarusians is based on a UN resolution against discrimination within the Olympic movement.
Since the invasion of Ukraine many sports bodies have moved events and suspended Russian and Belarusian teams or athletes, while sponsors ended contracts in protest against the war.
The British government added on Monday that Russia and Belarus can “pave the way for their athletes’ full return to the international sports community by ending the war they started.”
Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy took part in an online meeting attended by 35 ministers and chaired by the UK to discuss the call for a ban.
He pointed out that 228 Ukrainian athletes and coaches died as a result of the Russian aggression. (Reporting by Muvija M and Tommy Lund; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Ken Ferris)