Canada joins countries calling on IOC to define ‘neutrality’ of Russia and Belarus

Canada was among 35 governments that signed a statement Monday calling on the International Olympic Committee to clarify the definition of “neutrality” as it seeks to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to international sport and eventually to next year’s Paris Olympics.

“Until these fundamental issues and the significant lack of clarity and concrete details of a workable ‘neutrality’ model are addressed, we do not agree that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed to return to competition,” the statement said.

Officials from the United States, Great Britain, France, Canada and Germany are among the signatories of the statement.

Those five countries brought almost a fifth of all athletes to the 2021 Tokyo Games. Other countries that had proposed a possible Olympic boycott if the war continued, such as Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Denmark, also signed the statement, which: did not go so far as to mention the boycott.

The announcement was the result of a February 10 summit in London between government leaders, who heard from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Zelensky said that Russian athletes have no place in the Paris Games as long as the country’s invasion of Ukraine continues.

On behalf of Canada, the statement was signed by Canada’s Minister of Sports, Pascal Saint-Ong.

He tweeted on February 10. “Canada’s position is clear. Russian and Belarusian athletes should be banned from the 2024 Olympics.

“Let’s stand in solidarity with Ukraine.”

The International Olympic Committee is trying to find a way to allow Russians into the Olympics, citing the opinion of UN human rights experts who believe that Russians and Belarusians should not be discriminated against just because of their passports.

The IOC wants competitors from countries that did not support the war to be able to compete as neutral athletes, with no symbols of their countries allowed.

“The United States will continue to join a vast community of nations in holding Russia and Belarus, and the bad actors dictating their actions, accountable for this brutal war,” US Assistant Secretary of State Lee Satterfield said in a separate statement. “Russia has repeatedly proven that it does not respect and is unable to follow the rules in international sports and international law.”

While acknowledging that there is an argument for them to act as neutral athletes, government officials noted in a joint statement how closely intertwined sports and politics are in Russia and Belarus. Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago Friday, and Belarus has been Russia’s closest ally.

“We are very concerned about the extent to which it is possible for Russian and Belarusian Olympic athletes to act as ‘neutral’ in terms of the IOC’s identification with their country, when they are directly funded and supported by their states (as opposed to, for example, professional tennis players),” said the joint statement of the countries. “The strong ties and interdependence between Russian athletes and the Russian military are also of obvious concern. Therefore, our collective approach has never been to discriminate on the basis of direct nationality, but these serious concerns must be addressed by the IOC.”

When the war broke out, the IOC advised sports organizations to ban Russians from competing, labeling it as a safety measure for those athletes. That position changed earlier this year. IOC President Thomas Bach said last week that the IOC stands in solidarity with Ukraine’s athletes, but also that sports must respect the human rights of all athletes.

“History will show who does more for peace. Those who try to keep the lines open, to communicate, or those who want to isolate or divide,” said Bach.

An IOC spokesman said the committee was awaiting comment until it saw the official announcement.

Also last week, European Union lawmakers condemned the IOC’s efforts to reintegrate Russia into global sport. 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 world of international sport”.

In a statement on Monday that called for clarity from the IOC, it said the quickest way for Russia to return to the international sporting arena would be to “end the war they have started”.

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