Ukraine’s sports minister on Friday renewed the country’s threat to boycott next summer’s Paris Olympics if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete, and said his country would continue to marshal like-minded allies to add weight to a threat that represents a serious crisis for the Olympic movement.
The Ukrainian official, Vadym Guttsait, said that if Ukraine failed to persuade international sports officials to bar Russian athletes, the country would, in his opinion, have to “skip the Olympic Games.” Guttsait said Ukrainians “did not want to see or meet” Russian and Belarusian athletes in international sports competitions, including the Olympics, as long as the war persisted.
The comments came a week after the International Olympic Committee said it was exploring ways to admit athletes from Russia and Belarus, which has supported Russia’s invasion of Ukraine even as the war continues.
Ukrainian officials reacted angrily to the proposal and immediately raised the prospect of an Olympic boycott, a concept that has received support from some of Ukraine’s neighbors but also powerful allies in Western Europe. Poland’s sports minister said Thursday that he expected to assemble a coalition of as many as 40 countries — “including those from the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia and Japan” — to reject the idea of allowing athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete at the Paris Games.
Until a final decision is made, Guttsait said, he urged sports officials, athletes and others to lobby for a continued prohibition. He called on heads of different sports to contact their equivalents overseas, and said further talks would be held with European sports ministers on Feb. 10. “We have to work on everyone,” he said.
Ukraine’s threat is a crisis for the Olympic movement before the start of a crucial qualification period for the Games. The organization for Olympic sports in Asia has said it would consider hosting Russian athletes in qualification competitions there amid continued opposition in Europe, even as its own members have expressed concern about the idea, uncertain if it would take Olympic places away from Asian athletes. And the crisis this week led the International Olympic Committee to issue unusual public rebukes to both Russia and Ukraine.
On Tuesday, the I.O.C. reminded Russia’s top Olympic official, who had suggested that his country’s athletes should not be subjected to different rules, that the sanctions currently in place were “not negotiable.” Two days later, in a lengthy Q. and A. posted on its website, the Olympic Committee scolded Ukrainian Olympic officials, saying it was “extremely regretful to escalate this discussion with a threat of a boycott at this premature stage.”
To justify its stance, the I.O.C. has cited the opinion of rights experts linked to the United Nations who have backed its view that athletes should not be penalized by the passport they hold.
On Friday, the head of the Paris Olympics organizing committee, Tony Estanguet, expressed support for the I.O.C. position, saying individual athletes were “not involved at all in these decisions right now and, personally, I think they shouldn’t suffer the consequences of decisions that don’t concern them.”
“We’re hoping a maximum number of delegations and athletes can live their dream of taking part in the Games,” he told Agence France-Presse in the southern French city of Marseille.
Russian teams continue to be banned from other major sports, but the status of individual athletes has been less clear cut, with many sports, including tennis, allowing athletes from Russia and Belarus to play in events without flags or affiliation to their home countries.
Soccer’s leaders recently extended a ban on Russian teams from international and club competitions that was imposed shortly after the start of the war. But that ban went into effect only after several countries said they would refuse to take the field against Russian opponents.
The latest proposal to accommodate Russia and its athletes is in keeping with the I.O.C.’s treatment of Russia in the aftermath of revelations that it had corrupted several Olympics and world championships with a state-backed doping program involving thousands of athletes. Having initially threatened the most severe sanctions, the I.O.C. eventually backed down, allowing Russian athletes and teams to take part in recent Summer and Winter Olympics ostensibly as neutrals.