A row is brewing ahead of next year’s Olympic games in Paris that threatens to cast a dark shadow over one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

 

What’s it about?

 

In a nutshell, it concerns whether or not athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus should be allowed to take part.

 

Aren’t the worlds of politics and sport completely separate?

 

In theory, yes, but Olympic opening, closing and medal ceremonies involve a lot of flag waving and the odd national anthem. The idea that Russian and Belarusian national symbols could feature in these and be broadcast around the world is obviously a sensitive subject given they currently represent a genocidal war of imperialist aggression against Ukraine.

 

I see. What has Ukraine said about this?

 

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Ukraine's sports minister warned on Thursday his country could boycott the 2024 Paris Olympics if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to take part.

 

Ukraine's sports minister, Vadym Goutzeit, said: "Our position remains unchanged – as long as the war continues in Ukraine, Russian and Belarusian athletes should not be in international competitions.

 

"If we are not heard, I do not exclude the possibility that we will boycott and refuse to participate in the Olympics."

 

Who’s in charge of the decision and what have they said?

 

That would be the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which on Wednesday said it was seeking a "pathway" for Russians to take part in the Games despite the invasion of Ukraine.

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This could take the form of Russian and Belarusian athletes being allowed to compete as neutrals, rather than under the flags of their respective countries, and that this idea would be "further explored."

 

The IOC said "no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport."

 

Goutzeit said this would still be “unacceptable”.

 

What about other events?

 

Following the IOC’s announcement, the Olympic Council of Asia on Thursday offered athletes from both countries the chance to compete in this year's Asian Games.

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That is a significant move because they could gain qualifying marks in competition in Asia to allow them to compete in Paris.

 

What are other countries saying?

 

The IOC's stance was strongly criticized by Britain and Denmark on Thursday. Britain, which has supplied military and humanitarian support to Ukraine since the invasion began, said the IOC's move was a "world away from the reality of war."

 

Britain's Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said: "We condemn any action that allows President Putin to legitimize his illegal war in Ukraine.

 

"This position from the IOC is a world away from the reality of war being felt by the Ukrainian people – and IOC president (Thomas) Bach's own words less than a year ago where he strongly condemned Russia for breaking the Olympic Truce and urged it to 'give peace a chance'," she added.

 

The head of Denmark's National Olympic Committee said his country was also strongly opposed to Russia returning to the Olympic fold.

 

"The Russian aggression in UKR is escalating," Hans Natorp tweeted." Under these circumstances, it will be unacceptable to open up for RUS and Belarusian international sports participation.

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"We stand firmly in our position. Now is not the right time to consider their return."

 

The mayor of Paris said however she was in favor of Russian athletes competing at the 2024 Games, providing they did so as neutrals. "I think that it's a sporting moment and we shouldn't deprive athletes of the competition," Anne Hidalgo AFP reports.

 

"But I think and what I'm arguing for, as is a large part of the sporting world, is that there isn't a delegation under the Russian banner."

 

She suggested they compete under a "neutral banner."

 

Paris organizers have no say on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.

 

The IOC said on Wednesday that the international federation for each Olympic sport was "the sole authority for its international competitions."

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