June 1, 2023

UK government takes fight over Russian athletes’ ban to Olympic sponsors | Olympic Games

The government has written to the Olympic Games’ biggest sponsors urging them to put pressure on the IOC over its proposals to allow Russian and Belarusians to compete again in international sport and the Paris 2024 Games.

In a highly unusual move, the culture secretary, Lucy Frazer, has also asked the UK chief executives of the IOC’s worldwide partners – including Coca-Cola, Intel, Samsung and Visa – to press the IOC over a number of significant concerns it has over the potential easing of the ban.

“We know sport and politics in Russia and Belarus are heavily intertwined, and we are determined that the regimes in Russia and Belarus must not be allowed to use sport for their propaganda purposes,” the letter states.

“As long as our concerns and the substantial lack of clarity and concrete detail on a workable ‘neutrality’ model are not addressed, we do not agree that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed back into competition.”

The IOC continues to explore a pathway to allow such athletes to compete as “neutral” athletes, including qualifying for the Paris Olympics in Asia rather than Europe.

However the UK, along with 34 other countries, maintain that the situation in Ukraine has deteriorated since the IOC’s initial decision last February to impose a ban – and that Russia and Belarus should not return until Vladimir Putin stops his illegal war.

In a statement last month, the countries expressed 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. They also raised concerns over the strong links and affiliations between Russian athletes and the Russian military.

“Noting the IOC’s stated position that no final decisions have been made, we have strongly urged the IOC to address the questions identified by all countries and reconsider its proposal accordingly,” Frazer’s letter tells the sponsors.

“As an Olympic partner, I would welcome your views on this matter and ask you to join us in pressing the IOC to address the concerns raised in our statement.”

The letter comes a day after Russia launched its biggest missile strike on cities across Ukraine in weeks.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has also reiterated his call for a ban, saying that Russia’s presence at next year’s Olympics would be a “manifestation of violence”.

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“If the Olympic sports were killings and missile strikes, then you know which national team would occupy the first place,” he said.