IOC president Thomas Bach criticised the Ukrainian government on Thursday for blocking some athletes from qualifying events for the 2024 Paris Olympics that also included Russians and Belarusians. (More Sports News)
Ukrainian athletes have in recent weeks missed world or European championship events in judo, fencing and taekwondo, where Russians and Bel arusians could compete after being approved as neutrals.
The IOC and Bach in March shaped the definition of neutrality — not publicly supporting the war, nor being contracted to the military since February last year, competing without flag, anthem or national colors — that sports governing bodies must decide how or if to apply.
"It is hard to understand why the Ukrainian government is depriving their own athletes from their chance to qualify" for Paris, Bach said in a keynote speech to an International Olympic Committee online meeting.
Ukrainian athletes were "being sanctioned by their own government," Bach said, adding the IOC and Olympic sports bodies wanted to support them preparing for “"any competition that they want to take part in."
He did not specify if that could mean financial support for athletes in what appeared to suggest defying Ukrainian government and sports officials.
The IOC did not immediately respond to a request for more details.
Bach opened a 25-minute speech to IOC members insisting "our outrage of this brutal war, our compassion with the human suffering and our solidarity with the Ukrainian Olympic community remain as strong as ever."
He criticised Russia once for "shamelessly" holding talks about creating "fully politicised sport competitions" as a potential rival to Olympic-approved events.
Those talks included China, which Bach has tried to keep as a close ally before and since the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, which closed four days before Russia invaded Ukraine.
Otherwise, Bach tried to position the IOC in the middle ground between both sides of the war, unhappy at its position ahead of the Paris Olympics.
"The Russian side wants us to ignore the war," he said.
"The Ukrainian side wants us to totally isolate anyone with a Russian and Belarusian passport.
"We have the Russian side that considers the strict conditions (of neutral athlete vetting) to be unacceptable, humiliating and discriminatory. We have the Ukrainian side that denounces us for siding with Russia."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said any neutral flag is stained with blood and invited Bach in January to join him visiting the wrecked city of Bakhmut.
The IOC took a tough position on Russia within days of the war starting, urging sports bodies to exclude athletes and officials from international events and strip the country of hosting rights.
However, as the Paris Olympics approached, the IOC moved toward letting some Russians back into sport and Bach suggested excluding athletes based just on their passport would be discrimination and a breach of their human rights.
World Athletics has continued to exclude all Russians while soccer bodies FIFA and UEFA have not let Russian teams play in international competitions.
Bach suggested on Thursday the IOC's mission must be to "support the athletes of the entire world to make their Olympic dream come true."
He evoked an image of the “rapturous welcome” Ukrainian athletes would get from hundreds of thousands of people lining the Seine river during the Paris Olympics opening ceremony in 13 months, then the "wave of enthusiasm" cheering them in their competitions.
"What a powerful demonstration of resilience, and of determination," Bach said, "what a moment of pride, joy and hope for all Ukrainian people."