BRUSSELS – The European Union's presidency urged the International Olympic Committee to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from next year's Paris Games, yet said Monday a boycott by the 27-nation bloc is not on the table.
Swedish sports minister Jakob Forssmed told The Associated Press the IOC should reconsider its position to let Russians and Belarusians compete as neutral athletes in sporting events despite the war in Ukraine.
Sweden holds the EU presidency until July. Being in office allows a member nation to help set the EU’s tone and the bloc's agenda.
Asked whether EU nations should use the threat of a collective boycott to pressure the IOC to backpedal, Forssmed said that option is not being discussed right now.
“We’re not there,” Forssmed said on the sidelines of a gathering of sports ministers in Brussels. “But I do think that the International Olympic Committee, they really risk a trust issue here if they are not listening, and also making sure that no Russian athletes can represent Russia in any way at the Olympics.”
As qualifying competitions ramp up for next year's Olympics, the IOC favors allowing Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes without national symbols. The IOC, which last year recommended excluding Russian competitors on security grounds but now argues that would be discriminatory, has left the final decision to the governing bodies in each sport.
In March, the IOC said eligibility should be limited to athletes and officials who have not actively supported the war, nor have ties to the military and state security agencies. No clear definitions for eligibility were yet stated.
Although a large majority of EU countries oppose Russian and Belarusian athletes competing in Paris, finding a unanimous voice has been so far impossible. Hungary, which has vocally opposed EU sanctions against Moscow arguing they were doing more damage to European economies than to Russia, does not support a ban.
“If you go and read the letter that has been sent to the to the International Olympic Committee, you will note that one country is missing,” said Forssmed, who chaired the meeting in Brussels.
Forssmed questioned the ability of the IOC to really make sure only neutral athletes will indeed be present in Paris.
Although the IOC has recommended that sports bodies do not admit competitors who are contracted to the military or security forces, Forssmed said “it’s very, very difficult to see this happening because they are so integrated with the administration in Russia.”
Some of the Russian athletes who competed at the judo world championships this month had previously been listed in statements by the Russian Defense Ministry or the Central Sports Club of the Army, known as CSKA, as holding military ranks.
“They are often governmentally employed or they are state sponsored or they were even employed by the army,” Forssmed said about Russian athletes in general. “So, that makes it very, very difficult.”
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