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Olympic Chief Shares ‘Grief, Human Suffering’ of Ukrainian Athletes

Olympic chief Thomas Bach said on Sunday he shares the “grief and human suffering” of Ukrainian athletes and stressed that it is not up to individual governments to decide who takes part in international sports competition.

Ukrainian athletes, Bach said on the sidelines of the World Ski Championships, “know how much we share their grief, their human suffering and all the efforts we are making to help them” after Russia invaded their country nearly 12 months ago.

Bach added: “It is not up to governments to decide who can compete in which sport because that would be the end of international sport competitions and World Cups and Olympic Games as we know them.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has called for a boycott of the Paris 2024 Olympics if Russian athletes are allowed to compete, said Friday their presence was a “manifestation of violence”.

Ukraine has reacted furiously to the International Olympic Committee’s announcement last month that it was exploring a “way” to allow Russian and Belarusian competitors to compete under a neutral flag at the Paris Games.

Kyiv fears that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, whose forces will soon enter the second year of their invasion of Ukraine, will try to gain political advantage from Russia’s participation in next year’s Olympics.

IOC President Bach has described Ukraine’s calls to boycott the games as contrary to the “principles we stand for”.

“Our mission is a peace mission,” Bach said on Sunday. “History will tell who is doing more for peace, those trying to keep lines open and communicating, or those trying to isolate and divide…our role is to bring people together.”

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“We’re trying to find a solution that does justice to the sport’s mission to unite, not to contribute to more confrontation and more escalation.”

Bach added: “With every Ukrainian athlete, we can understand his reactions from a human point of view, we share his suffering, that’s why we are in full solidarity with him, that’s why we support him, whether he’s in Ukraine or outside.

“We support 3,000 members of the Ukrainian Olympic community to have a strong Ukrainian team in Paris at the 2024 Olympics”.

“Every Ukrainian athlete can be sure that we stand in full solidarity with him and all his comments will be taken very, very seriously.

“But in terms of athlete participation, we have to fulfill our mission of peace, and that’s a unifying mission of bringing people together.”

Bach refused to undertake a visit to the Ukrainian front in the key city of Bakhmut. He was invited by Zelenskyj to “see for yourself that neutrality does not exist”.

“I saw a tweet but there are no ongoing discussions,” he said, adding that talks about the way Russian and Belarusian athletes could possibly take part in Paris 2024 are not yet underway.

“We are talking about the sporting competitions that will take place this year. There is no talk of Paris yet, that will come much later,” said Bach.

The IOC and the international community must address the UN Human Rights Council’s “serious concerns” that excluding Russian and Belarusian athletes “just because of their passports constitutes a violation of their rights.”

The second problem, Bach added, is the paradox of certain sports, such as tennis, which already allow their participation, albeit under a neutral flag.

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“We saw a Belarusian player on neutral status win the Australian Open.

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