Ukraine will keep up pressure on the International Olympic Committee to prevent Russians from taking part in the Paris games next year, the country’s sports minister said on Tuesday.
“It is necessary to continue to put pressure,” Ukraine’s Youth and Sports Minister Vadym Gutzeit told AFP.
“And maybe the IOC will understand that, while there is a war in Ukraine, it is not the time for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return.”
Athletes from Russia and Belarus have faced sanctions from a multitude of sports since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.
As Moscow’s assault on Ukraine stretches into a second year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended allowing athletes from Russia and Moscow ally Belarus to compete as individual neutrals in upcoming international competitions.
The IOC says however it is yet to make a decision on whether Russians can take part at the Paris Olympics next year.
The announcement, made late last month, angered Ukrainian authorities, who have accused the global body in charge of Olympics of promoting war.
Gutzeit, who also chairs the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee, expressed hope that Western allies would help Kyiv to put pressure and keep Russians away.
“We have not lost yet,” he said.
He took aim at IOC President Thomas Bach, accusing him of softening his stance a year into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“President Thomas Bach was in Ukraine, and assured President Volodymyr Zelensky that he will be helping in the future,” Gutzeit said.
Bach travelled to Ukraine for talks with Zelensky in July last year, several months after Russia invaded.
“What has changed?” Gutzeit said.
“Nothing has changed, it has only gotten worse. So many cities have been destroyed, so many people – women, children – have been killed.”
Ukraine has threatened to pull out of the Games.
Gutzeit said the final decision has not been taken yet.
He said that for now Ukrainian athletes were preparing and training, but Kyiv could boycott the Paris Olympics if Russian and Belarusian athletes do take part.
“We are not talking about a boycott now,” he added.