Olympics-IOC rejects 'defamatory' criticism from Ukraine

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/File Photo

KYIV (Reuters) -The International Olympic Committee on Monday rejected fierce criticism from Ukrainian officials, who have accused it of promoting war after the body said Russians could potentially be given the opportunity to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak at the weekend described the Lausanne-based body as promoting "violence, mass murders, destruction" and said on Monday a Russian presence at the Games would constitute giving the country "a platform to promote genocide".

"The IOC rejects in the strongest possible terms this and other defamatory statements," the IOC said in a statement. "They cannot serve as a basis for any constructive discussion."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who last week called for a campaign to keep Russian athletes from competing in Paris, asked Denmark's visiting prime minister for support on Monday.

In his nightly video address, Zelenskiy pledged to "protect sports structures and the international Olympic movement from being discredited through the efforts of some representatives of sports bureaucracy to allow Russian athletes at international competitions".

Russia invaded neighbour Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year saying it wanted to protect its security and Russian speakers. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions driven from their homes.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba drew attention earlier to the fact that many Russian Olympians had ties with the military, including by competing for sports clubs affiliated with the defence ministry.

"The army that commits atrocities, kills, rapes, and loots. This is whom the ignorant IOC wants to put under white flag allowing to compete," Kuleba wrote on Twitter.

Russia has denied allegations that its forces have committed atrocities in Ukraine.

The IOC said last week that it welcomed a proposal from the Olympic Council of Asia for Russian and Belarusian athletes to have the chance to compete in Asia.

That could potentially also include Olympic qualifying events, given Russian and Belarusian athletes are unable to compete in Europe due to various restrictions and bans as well as opposition caused by Russia's invasion.

The IOC added then, however, that each sport federation was the "sole authority for its international competitions".

The Russian foreign ministry has said any attempt to squeeze Moscow out of international sport because of what it calls its special military operation in Ukraine is "doomed to fail".

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Tom Balmforth; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Ron Popeski; editing by Grant McCool)

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