The Kremlin on Wednesday, March 29, said it would defend its athletes, a day after Olympic chiefs recommended they compete as individuals under a neutral flag with no links to the military.

"We will defend the interests of our athletes in every way possible, and will continue contact with the IOC to protect (their) interests," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday recommended to sports federations and events organizers that Russian and Belarusian athletes return to competition "only" as individuals under a neutral flag.

Among other IOC recommendations, athletes should not have "actively" supported the Ukraine offensive and should not be "contracted" to the military or national security agencies.

Russia's Olympic Committee called the IOC criteria "unacceptable" and "discrimination on the basis of nationality".

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But the IOC is yet to decide on the potential participation of athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport at the Paris Olympic Games next year, saying Tuesday a decision would be taken "at the appropriate time".

Opposition to a return was growing Wednesday with the head of the organising committee of this summer's European Games in Poland warning that athletes from Russia and Belarus will not take part.

"Under no pretext and in any way, the athletes representing Russia and Belarus will not take part in our events," said Marcin Nowak on RFM FM radio.

Krakow will host the tournament, which brings together 18 Olympic disciplines, from June 21 to July 2.

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Nowak added that if international federations were to decide that the European Games will not act as qualifiers for the 2024 Paris Olympics, the events in the disciplines concerned "simply will not take place".

On Tuesday, more than 300 active and former fencers had called on Olympic chief Thomas Bach to uphold the ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes.

The FIE, the world fencing body, ruled earlier this month to allow Russian and Belarusian fencers to return to international competition, becoming the first Olympic sport to reopen its events to athletes from the two countries.

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However, in a hard-hitting letter, the fencers including 2020 Olympic women's foil champion Lee Kiefer of the United States accused Bach and the interim president of their federation, Emmanuel Katsiadakis, of prioritising Russians ahead of Ukrainians.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion has wreaked havoc on Ukrainian sports with "232 athletes being killed, 343 sport facilities being destroyed, 40,000 athletes forced abroad, and 140,000 young athletes left without sport facilities", they wrote.

The IOC move to "postpone" the decision about Russian and Belarusian athletes competing in Paris was welcomed by Ukraine.

"The decision on the admission of Russians and Belarusians to the Olympics in 2024 has been postponed," Ukraine's Sports Minister Vadym Gutzeit said on Facebook.

"We will also make joint efforts so that not a single Z-patriot gets into international sports arenas," he added in an apparent reference to pro-war Russians.

German Sports Minister Nancy Faeser called the recommendation for Russians and Belarusians to return as neutrals a "slap in the face" for Ukrainian athletes.

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Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the decision was "an outrage and a betrayal of the true spirit of sport".

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