Olympics-Ukraine says athletes not allowed to compete against Russians in Paris qualifiers


FILE PHOTO: Olympic rings to celebrate the IOC official announcement that Paris won the 2024 Olympic bid are seen in front of the Eiffel Tower at the Trocadero square in Paris, France, September 16, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

(Reuters) - Ukrainian athletes will not be allowed to take part in qualifying events for the 2024 Paris Olympics if they have to compete against Russians, government minister Oleh Nemchinov said.

Nemchinov, secretary of Ukraine's cabinet ministers, said the government's decision was adopted following a proposal by sports minister Vadym Huttsait and that national federations ignoring the ruling could be sanctioned. Huttsait is also president of Ukraine's Olympic committee.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued recommendations Tuesday for the gradual return to international competition for Russian and Belarusian athletes as neutrals.

Athletes from the two countries have been banned from most elite international sporting competitions since last March in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a "special military operation".

"At a meeting of the government, a protocol decision was made on the proposal of colleague Huttsait that we take part in qualifying competitions only where there are no Russians," Nemchinov was quoted as saying by Suspilne, Ukraine's public broadcaster, on Thursday.

"Accordingly, participation outside these criteria may be grounds for depriving federations of their national status."

The IOC is to make a separate decision on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in Paris at a later date. Ukraine has also threatened to boycott the 2024 Games should they be allowed to compete there.

Ukraine's sports ministry condemned the IOC's latest guidelines on Wednesday, while the head of Russia's Olympic committee has said the IOC's criteria was "unacceptable".

"I want to tell our fellow athletes who are worried that due to the IOC measures and the admission of Russians or Belarusians to competitions, and accordingly Ukrainians will not be able to participate, that their careers will be broken," Nemchinov said.

"But your life and that of your children will remain."

The IOC is reluctant to exclude Russians and Belarusians from Paris for fear of a return to the boycotts of the Cold War era and set out a pathway in January for them to earn Olympic slots through Asian qualifying to compete as neutral athletes.

Some federations have readmitted Russians and Belarusians in competitions but there is also considerable opposition to the IOC's plans from athletes and some European governments.

(Reporting by Hritika Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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