KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian government has barred its national sports teams from competing at international events which also include athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus.
The decree published by the Ministry of Youth and Sports follows opposition from Ukraine to efforts by the International Olympic Committee to reintegrate Russian and Belarusian competitors into events as neutrals without national symbols.
It could pressure global sports bodies to choose between admitting Russians and Belarusians or risking a Ukrainian boycott.
After Ukraine signaled last month it would seek to block its athletes from competing against Russians and Belarusians, the IOC said any such move would “hurt only the Ukrainian athlete community.” The IOC did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
The decree only refers to national team delegations and it was not clear if it would affect individual Ukrainian players on the men’s and women’s tennis tours, where Russian and Belarusian players have continued playing as neutrals.
It was also unclear how the measure might affect men’s soccer amid ongoing qualification for next year’s European Championship. European soccer body UEFA allows Belarus to compete, but not Russia. Ukraine and Belarus are playing in different qualifying groups and cannot be drawn together in the playoffs.
The government decision drew criticism from Vladyslav Heraskevych, a skeleton racer who competed at last year’s Winter Olympics. “If the Ukrainian representatives are absent at the competitions, this means we completely abandon international sports platforms and allow Russia/Belarus to promote their narratives and propaganda. This is a ‘white flag’ from the Ukrainian sports community,” he wrote on Twitter.
The IOC initially recommended that sports bodies exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes on safety grounds last year, but now advocates reintegrating them as neutrals, arguing that a blanket ban is discriminatory. The IOC still recommends blocking Russians and Belarusians with ties to the military, and its recommendation only covers individual, not team, competitions.
International sports federations are not obliged to implement the IOC’s recommendations and only some have set a deadline to admit neutral athletes from Russia or Belarus. The IOC is also yet to announce a decision about the Paris Olympics.
Ukraine boycotted an Olympic judo qualifier last year when the sport’s governing body allowed Russians, including several from the country’s military, to take part as neutral athletes. Ukrainian officials have previously not ruled out boycotting the Paris Olympics rather than competing against Russians.
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