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UK and France demand ban on Russian, Belarusian state-sponsored athletes | Russia-Ukraine war news

The sports ministers of Britain and France have insisted that Russian and Belarusian athletes must not compete as neutrals, as recommended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), because they can still receive government funding.

The IOC imposed sanctions on Russia and Belarus following Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, backed by Minsk, but recommended last month that their athletes be allowed to return to international competitions as neutrals.

Several Olympic sports federations have taken steps to readmit Russians and Belarusians as neutral nations, but Ukraine has threatened to lead a boycott of the 2024 Paris Games unless Moscow withdraws its soldiers.

Britain’s culture, media and sport secretary, Lucy Fraser, told a European Commission parliamentary hearing on Tuesday that it was concerning that the IOC’s proposal did not mention state funding.

“Secondly, there are currently very few regulations on links between the military and state security agencies … we know that the links between the states, the military and sports in Russia and Belarus are deeply entrenched,” she added at the meeting in Strasbourg .

“Many Russian athletes have been actively supporting Putin’s invasion.”

Russians or Belarusians who are contracted with their military cannot compete, the IOC advice says.

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said the IOC had “very specific and fundamental issues” that needed to be resolved before the Games start next July and that state funding would violate neutrality.

“What position does the IOC intend to take regarding athletes sponsored by the Russian or Belarusian state?” Oudea-Casera asked.

“Or those sponsored by or benefiting from financial support from entities with ties to Russia or Belarus?”

She added: “None of us should tolerate the idea that Ukrainian athletes are forced to share pitches, courts, fields and starting lines with state-sponsored athletes from Russia and Belarus.”

The IOC will finalize the entry decision for the Russian and Belarusian athletes at a later date.

Arsen Julfalakyan, a former Armenian wrestler and head of the World Wrestling Federation Athletes’ Commission who represented the Olympic body at Tuesday’s meeting, said he opposed the ban.

Julfalakyan said he had never advocated banning Azerbaijani athletes despite the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between the two countries that has killed thousands.

“I realized what the war was and what it was like. I lost friends, relatives and people I knew… I never called for a total ban of Azerbaijani athletes, and I won’t do it here,” said the Olympic medalist.

“Sport should never be politicized. It is unacceptable to use sport as a means of punishment. This is not for governments to decide – this will end international sport.”

In addition to threatening a boycott, Ukraine has banned its national team from competitions that include rivals from Russia and Belarus.

“The government will not financially support the Ukrainian team to participate in such competitions,” Deputy Sports Minister Andrei Chesnokov told the meeting.

Russia has denounced the West’s unwarranted attempts to politicize sports for what it says are geopolitical interests.

Wimbledon donates relief to Ukraine

Meanwhile, Wimbledon organizers said on Tuesday they would provide additional financial support to Ukrainian players and causes after lifting a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes at this year’s tournament.

The All England Club, which runs Wimbledon, announced last month that the ban imposed last year would not continue after they were stripped of ranking points and hit with hefty fines from the WTA and ATP.

Players from both countries will be able to compete as “neutral” athletes at the Grand Slam, which begins on July 3, provided they abide by certain conditions, which include a ban on expressing support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At a press conference announcing plans for the 2023 tournament, organizers revealed that one pound from each ticket sold – expected to be worth more than £500,000 ($625,000) in total – would be donated to Ukraine’s relief fund .

A day of competition will be provided to 1,000 Ukrainian refugees.

There will also be two free hotel rooms for each Ukrainian player, as well as training facilities during the grass season.

Russian and Belarusian players have been able to play as neutrals on both the men’s and women’s tours, including other Grand Slam events.

Russia’s Daniel Medvedev and Andrey Rublev are both among the top six in men’s tennis, while Belarusian women’s world No. 2 Alina Sabalenka won the Australian Open earlier this year. .

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