Group of 35 countries wants Russia, Belarus banned from Olympics, says Lithuanian minister

February 11, 2023 01:19 AM AEDT | By Reuters
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By Andrius Sytas

VILNIUS (Reuters) -A group of 35 countries including the United States, Germany, France, Britain and Japan have unanimously agreed to demand that Russian and Belarusian athletes are banned from the 2024 Olympics, the Lithuanian sports minister said on Friday

With war raging in Ukraine, the Baltic States, Nordic countries and Poland had called on international sports bodies to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in the Olympics.

Ukraine has threatened to boycott the games if Russian and Belarusian athletes compete and Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk has said Russians will win "medals of blood, deaths and tears" if allowed to compete.

"We are going in the direction that we would not need a boycott because all countries are unanimous," Jurgita Siugzdiniene said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy took part in the online meeting attended by 35 ministers to discuss the call for the ban, a Lithuanian sports ministry spokesperson said earlier.

The spokesperson said Zelenskiy's message to participants was that principles of neutrality cannot apply to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Russia launched a wave of attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure in the cities of Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia on Friday morning as Ukrainian officials said a long-awaited Russian offensive was under way in the east.

However, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach has called on Ukraine to drop threats of a boycott.

The IOC has opened the door for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals. It has said a boycott will violate the Olympic Charter and that its inclusion of Russians and Belarusians is based on a U.N. resolution against discrimination within the Olympic movement.

Some 18 months before the competition is due to start, the IOC is desperate to calm the waters. A Games torn asunder by war would be an existential threat to the Olympics and its message of global peace - not to mention a huge hit to income.

Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of host city Paris, has said Russian athletes should not take part. However, Paris 2024 organisers have said they will abide by the IOC's decision on the issue.

(Reporting by Andrius Sytas, writing by Alan Charlish; Editing by Toby Chopra and Tomasz Janowski)


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