Europe's leading human rights watchdog on Thursday, June 22, demanded a total ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2024 Olympics "as long as Russia's war of aggression" in Ukraine continues.

The Council of Europe urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its constituent sports federations to uphold "its position expressed in 2022 and to ban the participation" of these athletes from the next Olympics, as well as "all other major sporting events."

Athletes from Russia and Belarus have faced sanctions from a multitude of sports since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.

However, the IOC in March recommended allowing athletes from Russia and ally Belarus to compete as individual neutrals in international competitions provided that they did not actively support the war in Ukraine.

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The Council of Europe, meeting in a summer session in Strasbourg, said that any participation by these athletes would be "unthinkable".

They "would certainly be used as a propaganda tool and would de facto prevent other athletes -- in particular Ukrainians -- from participating."

The IOC position on Russia and Belarus has led to threats from Ukraine to boycott those events.

"The arguments in favour of their (Russia and Belarus) participation do not carry sufficient weight in the face of the need to condemn and repudiate the atrocities committed and to demonstrate the full and unwavering support of the international community for Ukraine as the onslaught continues."

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The 70-year-old, a key figure of the Nobel Prize-winning Memorial group, is the latest target of Kremlin repression, which has intensified since the offensive in Ukraine.

The statement added: "Russian and Belarusian elite athletes have received state salaries and were often part of military sports teams".

"It seems impossible that they could demonstrate their neutrality and distance from these regimes, let alone make a statement against the war."

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