(Reuters) – A group of 42 retired Canadian Olympians have urged the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) to reverse its support for Russian and Belarusian participation at next year’s Paris Games, unless Russia withdraws from Ukraine.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) set out a path in January for those athletes, who were banned from many international competitions after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine last year, to compete without their flags and anthems.
Many countries have publicly opposed the IOC’s proposal and Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Paris Olympics as long as Moscow’s troops remain in Ukraine, which Belarus helped facilitate.
The COC has said it supports the IOC’s recommendation that Russia and Belarus should be barred from international competitions but added it is open to exploring how athletes from the two countries could compete as neutrals in Paris.
“We condemn the recent public statements issued by the COC supporting the ‘exploration of a pathway’ for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as ‘neutrals’ in the 2024 Paris Olympics,” the athletes wrote in a letter on Wednesday.
“Opening the door to ‘neutral’ Russian and Belarusian participation… sends a message that the COC is no longer concerned with Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.
“No pathway should be considered for Russian or Belarusian athletes to compete in the Olympic Games until Russia fully withdraws from Ukraine.”
Reuters has reached out to the COC for comment.
Canada was among 35 countries that released a joint statement in February calling on the IOC to clarify the definition of “neutrality” and pledging their support for banning Russians and Belarusians from international competitions.
COC chief executive David Shoemaker told CBC Sports last month athletes from the two counties should publicly speak out against the war to attain the neutral status they would require to compete.
“Recent remarks by COC officials endorsing conditions for neutrality… are unfounded and out of touch,” the letter added. “For example, it is illegal in Russia to publicly denounce military actions abroad.
“Refusing their participation in international sport is not simply a matter of denying athletes a chance to compete because of their passport, it is a rejection of an unlawful and inhumane war and a recognition of the role international sport plays in geopolitics.”
Canadian greats and Olympic gold medallists were among the signatories, which included ice dancer Tessa Virtue, hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser, cross-country skier Beckie Scott and freestyle skier Alex Bilodeau.
(Reporting by Hritika Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill)