The United States and more than 30 other “like-minded” countries are backing a proposed ban of Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in international sports, according to a joint statement published on a UK government website on Monday.
The countries – including the UK, Canada and most of Europe – asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to reconsider its decision last month to create a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in next year’s Paris Olympics as “neutral athletes.”
But the statement on the UK government website says there is “no practical reason to move away from the exclusion regime for Russian and Belarusian athletes.”
On previous recommendation from the IOC, Russian and Belarusian athletes are currently banned from competition by many sporting federations following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Belarus’ assistance in the attack.
“In Russia and Belarus sport and politics are closely intertwined,” the joint statement said.
“We have strong concerns on how feasible it is for Russian and Belarusian Olympic athletes to compete as ‘neutrals’ – under the IOC’s conditions of no identification with their country – when they are directly funded and supported by their states (unlike, for example, professional tennis players).
“The strong links and affiliations between Russian athletes and the Russian military are also of clear concern. Our collective approach throughout has therefore never been one of discrimination simply on the basis of nationality, but these strong concerns need to be dealt with by the IOC.”
The statement is signed by sport and culture ministers from the US, Canada, UK, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
In a statement sent to CNN on Tuesday, the IOC said it “appreciates the constructive questions with regard to the definition of the neutrality of athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport, while noting that the explicit human rights concerns expressed by two special rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council have not been addressed in the statement.”
The office of the high commission of Human Rights commended the IOC’s move to allow Russian and Belarus athletes to compete as neutrals, urging the governing body to ensure “the non-discrimination of any athlete on the basis of their nationality.”
In a recent questions and answers statement published to its website, the IOC said it “cannot speculate” about whether Russian and Belarusian athletes would compete at the Paris Olympics.
The IOC’s intention to create a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to competition has been met with criticism, including from Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina and former boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko.
Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak, meanwhile, called the IOC a “promoter of war, murder and destruction” in light of the announcement last month – remarks the IOC rejected as “defamatory statements.”