KYIV/LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) -Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy condemned the idea of neutrality in sports at a time when his country's athletes fight and die in war, while their Russian counterparts might be allowed to compete.
Redoubling his efforts in what he called "a marathon of honesty" to stop Russian athletes from taking part in the 2024 Olympics, Zelenskiy said their presence would normalise Russia's invasion of his country.
"There is no such thing as neutrality when a war like this is going on. And we know how often tyrannies try to use sports for their ideological interests," Zelenskiy said in a Saturday evening video address.
Zelenskiy said on Friday that Ukraine would launch an international campaign to keep Russia out of the 2024 summer games, which will be held in Paris.
Russia said that any attempt to squeeze it out of international sport was "doomed to fail".
The war in Ukraine, now in its 12 month, has no end in sight, with Russia intensifying attacks on its neighbour in recent weeks. The Russian invasion has killed thousands, displaced millions and turn cities into rubble.
"Ukrainian athletes are forced to defend the lives of their loved ones and the freedom of our people from Russian aggression," Zelenskiy said.
"Russian strikes took the lives of hundreds of Ukrainian men and women who could have brought their talents to world sports."
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 2024 Olympics.
Ukraine says it could boycott the Games if Russian and Belarusian athletes take part.
On Saturday, Belarusian-born Aryna Sabalenka defeated Russia-born Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan to win the Australian Open, becoming the first player competing under a neutral flag to win a tennis grand slam.
"I think everyone still knows I'm a Belarusian player, and that's it," Sabalenka said flatly afterwards - holding a glass of champagne - when asked how it felt to win the tournament as a neutral player.
(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Wiriting by David Ljunggren and Lidia Kelly;Editing by Alison Williams and Cynthia Osterman)