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PACE President: ‘Russian and Belarusian athletes should not compete in the Paris Olympic Games’

Theodoros Rousopoulos

Following yesterday's decision by the International Olympic Committee not to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in the opening ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, and responding to a call by Ukraine’s Olympic Champions* urging PACE’s continued support for a total ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes taking part in these Olympic Games, PACE President Theodoros Rousopoulos made the following statement:

“The Olympic Games were born in my country, Greece, around 3000 years ago, and were organised every four years in the city of Olympia in the Peloponnese. Olympism was reborn - thanks to Pierre de Coubertin - with the first Olympic Games of the modern era, held in Athens in 1896. It is a philosophy which fosters respect for universal fundamental ethical principles - especially integrity, respect and friendship. It is very clear that the fundamental principles of Olympism are therefore, by definition, opposed to war.

So I put the question: should athletes from a country which has invaded another one take part in the Olympics and proudly represent this country? Or, put another way: can we condemn Russia for bombing Ukrainian civilians, kidnapping children, torturing prisoners, carrying out massacres - and then applaud its athletes? Knowing that many of these athletes are actually engaged in the Russian army, and the vast majority of them receive State salaries? Is this the spirit of Olympism?

In the Parliamentary Assembly, which brings together parliamentarians from 46 countries, we discussed this question several times, we heard different opinions, and a year ago we adopted a resolution with a straightforward answer: Russian and Belarusian athletes should not compete in the Paris Olympic Games. Why? Because their participation would be an insult to Ukrainian athletes, several of whom have died because of the war, and the majority of whom are not able to train properly, because of the destruction of sport infrastructure.

I have heard some people suggest that athletes and sportspeople should not be held responsible for the decisions of their governments. Let’s not be naïve. Any victory by these athletes, even under a neutral flag, could be celebrated – and used – as a tool for propaganda, creating a narrative of acceptance and normalisation that downplays the gravity of the actions of the Russian and Belarusian Governments.

I regret that the International Olympic Committee has decided not to follow our call, but I urge it to strictly apply the criteria it has set for allowing Russian athletes to take part, and to ensure that any participation by Russian and Belarusian citizens will not be used as propaganda.

This is now the best way to enhance the worthy objectives of peace and equality which the Olympic movement has embodied for thousands of years.”

* Letter sent to the PACE President by Daria Bilodid, Oleg Verniaiev, Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, Olga Kharlan, Oleksandr Abramenko, Yaroslava Mahuchikh, Maryna Aleksiiva, Vladyslava Aleksiiva, Mykhailo Romanchuk and Yurii Cheban.