Nations: No clarity on neutrality, no Olympics for Russia
Canada among 35 countries who signed joint letter
Canada was among the governments of 35 countries signing a statement Monday calling on the International Olympic Committee to clarify the definition of "neutrality" as it seeks a way to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes back into international sports and, ultimately, next year's Paris Olympics.
"As long as these fundamental issues 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," read the statement.
Among those signing the statement were officials from the United States, Britain, France, Canada and Germany. Those five countries brought nearly one-fifth of all athletes to the Tokyo Games in 2021. Other countries that had suggested an Olympic boycott was possible if the war continues — such as Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Denmark — also signed onto the statement, which did not go so far as to mention a boycott.
The statement was the product of a Feb. 10 summit in London between government leaders, who heard from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Zelenskyy said Russia athletes had no place at the Paris Games as long as the country's invasion of Ukraine continues.
Canadian sports minister Pascale St-Onge signed the statement on behalf of Canada.
She tweeted Feb. 10: "Canada's position is clear: Russian and Belarusian athletes must be banned from the 2024 Olympic Games.
"Let's stand in solidarity with Ukraine."
Canada's position is clear: Russian and Belarusian athletes must be banned from the 2024 Olympic Games. I have reiterated this to my international counterparts and to President <a href="https://twitter.com/ZelenskyyUa?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ZelenskyyUa</a>. <br><br>Let's stand in solidarity with Ukraine.🇺🇦 <a href="https://t.co/qg3ov8z7hX">pic.twitter.com/qg3ov8z7hX</a>—@PascaleStOnge_
An IOC spokesman said the committee has already begun a process to outline the circumstances under which Russians could compete in international competition if, in fact, it decides to continue down the current path.
It's a decision that needs clarity long before next summer's Olympics because 2023 marks the start of the Olympic qualifying period. Russia and Belarus, traditionally considered part of Europe in the international sports system, have instead been invited to compete in some Asian qualifiers later this year. The next IOC executive board meeting is set for March 28-30.
Assistant Secretary of State Lee Satterfield signed the statement on behalf of the United States. In a separate statement, she emphasized the need for the IOC to provide clarity on the definition of neutrality.
"The United States will continue to join a vast community of nations to hold Russia and Belarus — and the bad actors who dictate their actions — accountable for this brutal war," Satterfield said. "Russia has proven, time and again, it has no regard for and is incapable of following the rules — in international sport and in international law."
While acknowledging there was an argument for them to compete as neutral athletes, the government officials noted in the joint statement how closely sports and politics are intertwined in Russia and Belarus. Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago Friday and Belarus has been Russia's closest ally.
When the war started, the IOC recommended sports organizations bar Russians from competitions, labelling it as a measure for those athletes' safety. That stance changed at the start of this year. Last week, IOC president Thomas Bach said the IOC stood in solidarity with Ukraine's athletes, but also that sports has to respect the human rights of all athletes.
"History will show who is doing more for peace. The ones who try to keep lines open, to communicate, or the ones who want to isolate or divide," Bach said.
Also last week, European Union lawmakers condemned the IOC's efforts to reintegrate Russia into world sports. The EU parliament asked the 27 member states to pressure the IOC to reverse its decision and said the Olympic body's approach was "an embarrassment to the international world of sport."
Monday's statement, while calling for clarity from the IOC, said the quickest way for Russia to get back into the international sports scene would be "by ending the war they started."
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