Olympics-Zelenskiy vows campaign to prevent Russia from competing in Olympics

FILE PHOTO: The Olympic rings are pictured in front of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, May 17, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

BERLIN (Reuters) -Ukraine will launch an international campaign to prevent Russian athletes from being allowed to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympics, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday.

Sports Minister Vadim Guttsait earlier said Ukraine would not rule out boycotting the Games if Russian and Belarusian athletes took part. They have been banned in some sports while they are allowed to compete under a neutral flag in others.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), eager to see them back in major competitions, said on Wednesday the Olympic Council of Asia had offered Russian and Belarusian athletes the chance to compete in Asia, giving them a qualification pathway for the Paris Olympics.

"Today we will a start a marathon for fair play aimed at clearing the management of international Olympic structures of hypocrisy as well as (preventing) any attempts to drag representatives of the terrorist state into world sport," Zelenskiy said in a video address.

"It is obvious that any neutral flag of Russian athletes would be stained with blood ... Olympic principles and war are fundamentally opposed to each other."

In a tweet following his speech, Zelenskiy called on IOC President Thomas Bach to visit the war-torn city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, which has been the stage of intense fighting.

"I invite Mr. Bach to Bakhmut. So that he could see with his own eyes that neutrality does not exist," Zelenskiy wrote.

Last month Zelenskiy told Bach he opposed the idea of Russian athletes taking part under any kind of neutral banner in the 2024 Summer Games.

The IOC is eager to include Russian and Belarusian athletes as neutrals at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Friday that any attempt to squeeze Moscow out of international sport was "doomed to fail".

Guttsait, writing on Facebook, said if Ukraine failed to ensure the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes, "I do not rule out the possibility that we will boycott and refuse participation in the Olympics."

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many sports organisations have moved events and suspended Russian teams or athletes, while sponsors have ended contracts in protests against the war.

"Russian strikes have claimed the lives of hundreds of Ukrainians who could have enriched world sport with their talent," said Zelenskiy.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, David Ljunggren and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Robert Birsel and Ken Ferris)

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