From the Editors:  The following is a press release issued by the UK Friends of Ukraine on Apil 9, 2024.

UK Friends of Ukraine, supported by Ukraine All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Co-Chairman Alex Sobel MP, have described any involvement of Russian and Belarusian athletes at the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games under a neutral flag as a “backwards step” and “propaganda victory” for Putin.

This follows reports that suggest that the UK Government has written to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) dropping its opposition to Russian and Belarusian athletes participating under a neutral banner, which has been described by the Westminster advocacy group as deeply troubling.

The UK Friends of Ukraine is urging the Government and International sporting federations to stand firm against allowing Russian athletes to compete, given the ongoing full scale invasion and Russian terrorism against Ukraine.

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Despite assurances from the IOC that participating athletes would be required to adhere to strict guidelines, including no public support for the war in Ukraine, the broader geopolitical context cannot be ignored. With an intensifying bombing campaign taking place in towns and cities across Ukraine, now is not the time to allow Russia a pathway back into the international community.

Alex Sobel, Co-Chair of the APPG, said: "I firmly believe that the Olympics should not be exempt from the sanctions regime. Allowing Russian athletes to participate under a neutral flag would undermine the integrity of the Games and send the wrong message in the face of ongoing aggression against Ukraine. It is crucial that we maintain pressure and uphold principles of justice and solidarity, even in the realm of sports."

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Alex Rennie, Director of the UK Friends of Ukraine, said: “The international community showed strength of character in banning Russia and Belarus from sporting events after the full-scale invasion. A weakening of position from the UK Government, one of the strongest allies of Ukraine, could lead to international federations softening the position on Russian and Belarusian athletes competing in France this summer.

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“Russian athletes competing for gold medals, even under a neutral flag, provides a propaganda victory for Putin and is a backwards step in the international exclusion of Russia in response to its illegal war in Ukraine. The only white flag Russia should be allowed to use is the one where they surrender the war.”

The government's sudden change in stance, was revealed in a letter, reported in The Times, from sports minister Stuart Andrew to IOC President Thomas Bach. Ultimately, it is down to individual federations that make up the Olympic movement to decide whether to include Russia, but positions taken by the IOC set a precedent often followed by sporting bodies.

The UK Friends of Ukraine backs the position taken by Lord Coe, president of World Athletics, who opposes the involvement of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the Paris Games and has held firm against them taking part in Paris.

Mr Rennie added: "It is imperative that the British government demonstrates unwavering support for Ukraine by publicly making their position clear. Allowing Russian athletes to compete sends the wrong message and undermines the values of the Olympic movement.

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“World Athletics continued leadership on the issue shows the way forward. We need to continue to maintain a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes competing international sporting events, including at the Olympics.”

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