Olympics-Belarusian athletes opposed to Lukashenko ask to be cleared to compete

FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Minsk, Belarus, January 19, 2023. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) - Belarusian athletes who openly oppose the leadership of Alexander Lukashenko on Friday called on the International Olympic Committee to allow them to compete while barring those who support the authorities and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The possibility that Russian and Belarusian athletes could be given a pathway to compete at the Summer Olympics in Paris next year has infuriated Ukraine and countries including Latvia, which have threatened to boycott the Games.

But Belarusian athletes who have protested against Lukashenko and fiercely opposed the war in Ukraine have called on the IOC to recognise their stance and to clear them to compete.

In a declaration published by the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation and signed by more than 50 sports figures, the signatories "support the reinforcement of the sanctions already in place" against Russia and Belarus.

It added, however, that Belarusian athletes who have openly opposed Lukashenko and the war should be allowed to take part in international competitions.

"Russian and Belarusian athletes supporting the regimes of Putin and Lukashenko should not have the opportunity to bring aggression to the world sports arena," the declaration said.

"The Belarusian Free Athletes should be granted the right to participate in sports competitions and saved from persecution by the Lukashenko regime for their civic position."

Hundreds of Belarusian athletes signed an open letter to demand a re-run of presidential election in 2020 that saw Lukashenko retain power. The close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin denies accusations that the vote was rigged.

Several Belarusian athletes who took to the streets or voiced support for the opposition in the wake of the election, including Olympic decathlete Andrei Krauchanka, were detained and served stints in jail. Others lost their state employment or were kicked off national teams.

Athletes from Russia and neighbour Belarus, which has aided Moscow in its invasion of Ukraine, have been banned from many international sporting competitions since the conflict erupted a year ago.

The IOC announced last week that athletes from the two countries, unable to compete in European Olympic qualifiers due to the war, might be allowed to earn slots to compete as neutrals at the 2024 Games through Asian qualifying.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Toby Davis)

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