Olympics-Ukrainian athletes should have chance to qualify for Paris Games-IOC

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) -The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Thursday appealed to Ukraine to give their athletes the chance to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics despite a partial ban on competing against Russian and Belarusian athletes.

IOC President Thomas Bach said the Olympic body would support “every Ukrainian athlete” who wanted to take part in Olympic qualifying events in their respective sport.

“We want to make it possible for every Ukrainian athlete to qualify now and participate in the Olympic Games,” Bach said at the start of an IOC session.

“Therefore, through the respective International Federation, we will support every Ukrainian athlete in their preparation and participation in any competition that they want to take part in – so that they can make the Ukrainian people proud,” he said.

Ukraine in March banned its national sports teams from competing in Olympic, non-Olympic and Paralympic events that include competitors from Russia and Belarus.

That decision came after the IOC angered Kyiv by paving the way for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to competitions as neutrals.

They had initially been banned following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for which Belarus has operated as a staging ground for troops and weapons.

“The Ukrainian athletes are being sanctioned by their own government for the war that has been started by the Russian and Belarusian governments,” Bach said.

“It is hard to understand why the Ukrainian government is depriving their own athletes from their chance to qualify for the Olympic Games Paris 2024 and to make the Ukrainian people proud.”

In some sports, such as athletics, those Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned but in others, including tennis, Ukrainian players regularly face Russian or Belarusian competitors playing as neutral athletes.

The IOC had banned athletes from those countries in February last year.

But earlier this year it recommended they return to world sport as neutrals, without flags or anthems.

No decision has yet been taken on Russian and Belarusian athletes’ participation at the Paris Olympics next year.

Ukraine had previously warned its sports federations that it would strip them of their status as governing bodies if their athletes competed on the international stage with Russians and Belarusians.

“The entire Olympic community, the entire world is longing for Ukrainian athletes shining brightly in international competitions,” Bach said.

“We want them to have the opportunity to qualify for Paris 2024. This means participating now.”

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris and Toby Davis)