GENEVA (AP) — Ahead of his country soon hosting the multi-sport European Games with no Russian or Belarusian athletes, Poland President Andrzej Duda thanked Olympic officials on Monday for excluding the military invaders of Ukraine.
President Duda was accepting a flame of peace for the games from the Rome-based European Olympic Committees one week after the IOC detailed how it wants Russians and Belarusians to return to international competitions before the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Poland has consistently urged sports leaders during the war to ban Russia and Belarus, and Duda revealed he would welcome Ukraine’s president on a visit in two days’ time.
“As the host of the European Games,” Duda said in translated comments about the competition that opens on June 21, “I will be able to look in the eye of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and tell him, ‘Volodymyr, these Games are going to be the Games of peace and the Games of calm with no pretenses, with no imitation that everything is all right.’”
The “pretense” and “imitation” seemed aimed at the prospect of some Russians and Belarusians preparing to be cleared to compete as neutral athletes in more Olympic sports because of the International Olympic Committee’s updated advice to governing bodies.
Earlier Monday, World Taekwondo said it could see some athletes — who should be vetted to ensure they have not actively supported the war, nor are “contracted to” military or national security agencies — returning to its world championships in late May.
The IOC and its president Thomas Bach have shifted position since urging sports bodies within days of the war starting in February last year to ban Russia and Belarus playing or hosting international sports. Those countries’ tennis players and cyclists continued to compete.
Defying Zelenskyy who says Russia and Belarus have “no place” in Paris while the war continues, the IOC now cites advice from U.N.-recognized experts that it would be discrimination to exclude athletes based on their passports.
“Russia is an invader state, a state which is an aggressor which invaded Ukraine and is currently waging war in Ukraine,” Duda told Olympic and Italian officials on Monday, describing Belarus as a “regime who has supported this onslaught.”
More than 7,000 athletes are due to compete at the European Games centered on the Polish city of Kraków from June 21 through July 2.
A qualifying path toward the Paris Olympics is included in 18 sports on the program, European Olympic Committees president Spyros Capralos told The Associated Press earlier Monday.
“It’s impossible to have Russian and Belarusian participation,” he said in a telephone interview from Rome, acknowledging the Polish government’s refusal to host them.
Taekwondo has its upcoming world championships in Azerbaijan, where Russians can travel more freely and which hosted the inaugural European Games in 2015. The second edition in 2019 was hosted by Belarus.
The four-yearly sports event has gone to Poland, a member of the European Union which has imposed financial, travel and visa limits on Russians.
“It’s a combination of all these things,” said Capralos, who is among the 100 IOC members led by Bach. “Now there are so many logistical problems and issues, and because most athletes have already qualified.”
Ukraine could field a team of around 200 athletes in Poland, where about two million of their compatriots are living as refugees who fled the war.
“The support for the Ukraine athletes will come from everyone,” Capralos said of the Games. “I think Ukraine will get a standing ovation. This is going to be a great moment.”
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