Olympic sponsors urged to back continued ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes

The UK Government has urged Olympic sponsors to put pressure on the IOC over plans to potentially allow Russian athletes to compete as neutrals in Paris (Adam Davy/PA) (PA Archive)
The UK Government has urged Olympic sponsors to put pressure on the IOC over plans to potentially allow Russian athletes to compete as neutrals in Paris (Adam Davy/PA) (PA Archive)

Olympic sponsors have been urged by the British Government to support a continued ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes for next year’s Games in Paris.

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has written to the UK chief executives of the International Olympic Committee’s 13 worldwide partners, who include Coca-Cola, Intel, Samsung and Visa, to put pressure on the IOC to set out the detail around the ‘pathway’ it is considering which would allow Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutrals.

The IOC’s executive board recommended athletes from those two countries be excluded from international sports events last February, in the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

However, IOC president Thomas Bach insists those were measures designed to “protect” those athletes, and now says athletes should not be discriminated against because of the passport they hold.

The UK is one of 35 nations, also including the United States and Games hosts France, who have demanded clarity from the IOC on the precise terms of neutrality.

Frazer wrote: “We know sport and politics in Russia and Belarus are heavily intertwined, and we are determined that the regimes in Russia and Belarus must not be allowed to use sport for their propaganda purposes.

“As long as our concerns and the substantial lack of clarity and concrete detail on a workable ‘neutrality’ model are not addressed, we do not agree that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed back into competition.

“Noting the IOC’s stated position that no final decisions have been made, we have strongly urged the IOC to address the questions identified by all countries and reconsider its proposal accordingly.

“As an Olympic partner, I would welcome your views on this matter and ask you to join us in pressing the IOC to address the concerns raised in our statement.”

The UK Government believes the situation in Ukraine has deteriorated since the IOC took its initial stance to exclude Russia and Belarus, and that as long as Russian president Vladimir Putin continues the invasion, athletes from those countries should not be allowed to compete.

Bach has criticised government interference on this matter.

Speaking after an IOC executive board meeting last December, when the governing body first said it was exploring a pathway for Russian athletes to return, Bach said: “If this (interference) would continue, then our sports competitions and the international sport system would be gone.

“Today it’s Russia and Belarus. Tomorrow it’s the next country and then the other countries coming back with counter-sanctions.

“We have to work for our unifying mission, to defend the athletes (and) to defend the international sports movement.”