Olympics-OCA offers Russian, Belarusian athletes opportunity to compete at Asian Games

FILE PHOTO: Belarusian and Russian national flags fly during "Day of multinational Russia" event in central Minsk, Belarus June 8, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

(Reuters) - The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) said on Thursday it has offered to let Russian and Belarusian athletes take part in the Asian Games, a first step towards them competing at the Paris 2024 summer Olympics.

On Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee said a pathway for the return of athletes from the two countries to competition "under strict conditions" should be further explored.

"The OCA believes in the unifying power of sport and that all athletes, regardless of their nationality or the passport they hold, should be able to compete in sports competitions," the OCA said in a statement.

"The OCA has offered to give eligible Russian and Belarusian athletes the opportunity to take part in competitions in Asia, including the Asian Games."

The Asian Games are Olympic qualifiers and the move could help athletes from the two countries compete at Paris 2024. Qualifiers for the Paris Olympics in some sports have started with many more taking place throughout the year.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, many sports bodies have moved events and suspended Russian teams or athletes while sponsors have ended contracts in protest against the war.

Belarus is a key staging area for the invasion, which Russia calls a "special military operation".

In a call with IOC President Thomas Bach in December, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy opposed the idea of Russian athletes taking part under any kind of neutral banner at the 2024 Summer Games.

The Hangzhou Asian Games, which could not be hosted last year because of COVID-19, will be held in the Chinese city from Sept. 23 to Oct. 8 2023.

(Reporting by Aadi Nair in Nashik, India; Editing by Toby Davis)

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