Opposition to Russians being allowed to compete at next year’s Paris Olympics is intensifying, as the UK government prepares to convene talks with more than 30 countries.
The summit is due to be held next Friday 10 February.
The International Olympic Committee is facing dissent over its willingness to allow athletes from Russia to compete as neutrals in Paris next year in defiance of pleas from Ukraine, following Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
Ukrainian Olympic officials decided on Friday to consult on a possible boycott of the Olympics and an outright ban on Russian athletes – a stance supported by the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania which border Russia and gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Lithuania’s sports minister Jurgita Siugzdiniene told Sky News that her British counterpart has organised a virtual meeting next Friday involving more than 30 countries on excluding athletes from Russia and Belarus from the Olympics.
As well as European governments, officials from Canada, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea are among the global participants in the meeting. Poland has said it would be possible to build a coalition of about 40 countries, including the US, Britain and Canada.
“We should do everything [so] Russian and Belarusian athletes would not participate in the Olympics, and even under the veil of neutrality,” Ms Siugzdiniene said.
“That’s what we should agree and that is very important. And so in that way we wouldn’t need to discuss the boycott.”
The IOC announced last week that it was open to athletes from Russia and Belarus – which has been used as a staging post for the invasion of Ukraine – competing as neutrals in Paris if they have not actively supported the war.
“I see it as an effort to legitimise and distract attention from Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” Ms Siugzdiniene said.
“I think they can use this as a platform. So it would be very wrong that we would provide this opportunity for them.”
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In the last three summer and winter Olympics between 2018 and 2022, Russian athletes have been prevented from competing with the national flag or anthem as punishment for the country’s state-sponsored doping scheme.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said any neutral flag for Russia in Paris would be “stained with blood”.
At Friday’s meeting, Ukraine’s sports minister and president of the country’s Olympic committee Vadym Hutzait said members were united “against allowing sportspeople from Russia and Belarus from competing”.
In an appeal to sporting authorities, he said: “As long as the war is going on, as long as our motherland is being bombed, as long as we are fighting for freedom and independence, we have a great wish not to see them [Russians and Belarusians].
“There is a discussion on the international level and we have already some countries supporting us.”
He added: “The price of Ukrainians’ lives is of the highest value. We have no right for compromise … when our Ukrainians are dying.”
The IOC wants sports federations to allow any Russians or Belarusians who have not been “actively supporting the war in Ukraine” to take part and argues it would be discriminatory to ban athletes based on their citizenship alone.
It has responded to the comparison with Apartheid-era South Africa being excluded from the Olympics for more than 20 years, pointing out that UN sanctions were in place at the time.
“There are no UN sanctions in place against Russia and Belarus at this moment in time,” the IOC said.
But Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, can veto any proposed resolution.
Government pressure on athletes and sports bodies should also be resisted, the IOC said, adding its stated mission is “to unite the entire world in a peaceful competition”.