Canadian Olympic Committee open to exploring paths for Russians to compete at Paris Olympics
CEO David Shoemaker says nationality-based exclusion goes against Olympic values
Canada is so far resisting calls from other countries to step up pressure to keep Russian and Belarusian athletes out of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
Russia invaded Ukraine within days of the closing ceremonies of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, with Belarusian support.
The participation of athletes from Russia and Belarus in Paris is a thorny issue and a diplomatic minefield because of the war in Ukraine.
The Canadian Olympic Committee accepts the International Olympic Committee's exploration of a way for Russia and Belarus to compete in Paris as neutrals along with other current sanctions.
In threatening to boycott Paris, Latvia included Canada among countries it wants to campaign against the inclusion of Russia and Belarus in any Olympic qualification events or Olympic Games.
Sports ministers from Poland and the Baltic countries Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia issued a joint statement Thursday urging a ban on those two countries from international sport and Olympic Games.
Poland's sport minister Kamil Bortniczuk told Reuters he believes a coalition of 30 to 40 countries, including Canada, can be convinced to reject Russian and Belarusian participation in Paris.
COC chief executive officer David Shoemaker wasn't available for an interview Thursday with The Canadian Press, but released a statement indicating Canada's position on the issue was similar to that of the United States.
"The Canadian Olympic Committee continues to support the recommendation made by the IOC in February, 2022, that athletes and officials from Russia and Belarus should not be invited or allowed to participate in international competitions," Shoemaker wrote.
"However, we recognize that the decision to exclude athletes solely by virtue of their nationality also goes against core principles of the Olympic movement.
"We are open to the exploration of a pathway for the inclusion of neutral athletes Russian and Belarusian who meet, at a minimum, the conditions set out by the IOC executive board in its January 25th, 2023 statement."
Ukraine strongly opposed
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy wants Russian athletes barred from Paris stating "any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood."
Ukrainian Olympic officials are meeting Friday to discuss a potential boycott of Paris.
"It is extremely regretful to escalate this discussion with a threat of a boycott at this premature stage," the IOC said Thursday.
Among the IOC's stated conditions for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in Paris under a neutral flag with no anthem, flag or colours is they also can't actively support the war in Ukraine.
As soon as the IOC opened a door for possible Paris participation, Russia and Belarus were invited to the Asian Games, which is an Olympic qualifier, later this year.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that the United States Olympic and Paralympic committee has taken a similar stance to Canada and quoted head Gene Sykes from a letter he wrote to athletes and others.
"After listening to many athletes and constituents from around the United States, we recognize a real desire to compete against all the world's best athletes — but only if that can happen in a way that ensures safe and fair play," Sykes wrote.
Neutral athletes since 2018
Russian athletes have competed as neutrals since the 2018 Winter Games because of a widespread doping scandal involving the host country in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.
The International Paralympic Committee expelled Russia and Belarus from Beijing's 2022 Paralympic Games on the eve of the opening ceremonies.
In November, Canada was among the IPC members voting in favour of suspending the Russian and Belarusian Paralympic committees until further notice.
CPC chief executive officer Karen O'Neill was unavailable for comment Thursday.
The 2024 Summer Olympics open July 26 and close Aug. 11, followed Aug. 28 to Sept. 8 by the Paralympic Games.
The Montreal-based organization Global Athlete said allowing Russians and Belarusians to compete for medals in Paris sends a message that the IOC endorses Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"The IOC is strengthening Russia's propaganda machine, empowering the Putin regime, and undermining peace," Global Athlete said in a statement.
With files from The Associated Press