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Ukraine’s Olympic boycott off the table for now

Despite the IOC’s plans to reintegrate Russian and Belarusian athletes into world sport, the NOC of Ukraine continues to campaign against the plan. A boycott is off the table for now.

Graphic Olympic rings and lettering International Olympic Committee in front of the Russian and Belarusian flags
Will Russia and Belarus join the “Olympic family” again soon?

On Friday, the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of Ukraine again spoke out sharply against the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competitions and the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. However, the decision on a boycott previously brought into play has been postponed for the time being.

They are determined to work against the admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international events and the Olympic Games, said Sports Minister and NOK boss Wadym Hutzajt after an extraordinary general assembly in Kyiv. “As long as the war lasts, as long as our fatherland is being bombed, as long as we are fighting for our independence, our territorial integrity, we cannot see them. We have a great desire not to see them until the war does not end with our victory.”, emphasized Hutzajt.

A boycott would only be discussed if, despite the greatest efforts, it was not possible to exclude Russians and Belarusians. “If we all work (hard) and do everything for it, but we don’t succeed, then – this is just my personal opinion – the Olympic Games must be boycotted. But this question will only be collegially discussed in an extraordinary session of our National Olympic Committee decided,” said the NOK boss.

IOC condemns boycott plans

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), led by German President Thomas Bach, recently triggered a controversy with the announcement that it wanted to open up opportunities for athletes from Russia and Belarus to take part in international competitions despite the war in Ukraine. This could also open the way for these athletes to the games in Paris, albeit only under a neutral flag.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy (right) shakes hands with IOC President Thomas Bach in front of a Ukraine flag
IOC President Thomas Bach (left) visiting Volodymir Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine

The IOC immediately condemned the then-voiced boycott ideas from Ukraine. “It is extremely unfortunate to escalate this discussion at this early stage with a boycott threat,” it said. Previous boycotts have failed in their objectives.

For the managing director of Athletes Germany, Johannes Herber, “the time to debate re-admission is too early”. Herber said that in an interview with DW. “Especially now that the state of war has not only not ended but has gotten worse.”

Nevertheless, Herber does not believe that there would be a boycott of the 2024 Games by German athletes: “The decision is up to each individual athlete. At the moment I cannot imagine that many athletes from Germany will attend the Olympic Games either out of protest or so they don’t have to compete against Russian or Belarusian athletes.”

Athletes in a bind

Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) spoke out against the re-admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes. The ministry is currently sanctioning German athletes if they compete against Russian or Belarusian athletes by stopping funding. If this regulation were still in place in the summer of 2024, Olympic participants would run the risk of having to accept restrictions.

Johannes Herber said: “Of course, the Federal Ministry of the Interior would have to answer this question in the event of a re-admission. But I assume that the decision will be made in such a way that the German athletes would not be disadvantaged – after all, it’s not our fault.”

High jumper Yaroslava Mahuchich cheers with the Ukrainian flag at the 2022 European Championships in Munich
High jumper Jaroslawa Mahutschich will win the European Championships in Munich in August 2022

In general, his athletes’ representatives have always called for “a discussion to take place about the requirements for states to be part of the Olympic movement. At the last Winter Games in China, it was the genocide, we’re now talking about the war of aggression by Russia, we talk about Iranian athletes who are being persecuted by their own regime and who are being made examples of. If the athletes from Belarus and Russia are now permitted again, then this discussion will be off the table again, if a country without consequences ignores the values ​​and the Olympic peace can trample underfoot”.

Majority for reinstatement

Recently, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland condemned the IOC initiative in a joint statement. “I think that in the coming week, 40 countries will take a very firm and very clear stance against Russians and Belarusians starting at the Olympics,” Poland’s Sports Minister Bortniczuk said on Polish state television when announcing a video conference of sports ministers from numerous nations on February 10 . In his statement, Bortniczuk assumed that, in addition to the members of the European Union and Great Britain, the USA would also oppose the IOC.

Johannes Herber from Athletes Germany smiles
Johannes Herber from Athletes Germany

However, Washington only made it clear on Thursday that it would support the course of IOC President Thomas Bach. Michael Schirp, the spokesman for the German Olympic Sports Confederation, assumes that around 90 percent of the National Olympic Committees would support the reintegration of Belarus and Russia. Even Germany, Schirp told DW, would not stand in the way of this, subject to conditions.

Invaded shortly after the Winter Games

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, just three days after the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, also violating the Olympic truce that will last until the end of the Paralympic Games. The IOC then recommended that the international federations exclude the athletes from Russia and Belarus. International sporting events should also be withdrawn from both countries. In 2014, shortly after the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia annexed Crimea, which is part of Ukraine.

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