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Canadian Olympic Committee open to exploring paths for Russians to compete at Paris Olympics

Canada has so far resisted calls from other countries to step up pressure to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics.

Russia, with Belarusian support, invaded Ukraine within days of the closing ceremonies of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

The participation of athletes from Russia and Belarus in Paris is a sensitive issue and a diplomatic minefield because of the war in Ukraine.

The Canadian Olympic Committee accepts the International Olympic Committee’s investigation into how Russia and Belarus can compete as neutral opponents along with other current sanctions in Paris.

Threatening to boycott Paris, Latvia has included Canada among countries seeking to oppose the inclusion of Russia and Belarus in Olympic qualifying events or the Olympic Games.

Sports ministers of Poland and the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia issued a joint statement on Thursday calling for these two countries to be banned from international sports and the Olympics.

Poland’s Sport Minister Kamil Bortniczuk told Reuters he believed a coalition of 30 to 40 countries, including Canada, could be persuaded to reject Russia and Belarus’ participation in Paris.

COC chief executive David Shoemaker was unavailable for an interview with The Canadian Press on Thursday, but released a statement showing Canada’s position on the issue is similar to that of the United States.

“The Canadian Olympic Committee continues to support the IOC’s February 2022 recommendation that athletes and officials from Russia and Belarus should not be invited or not to participate in international competitions,” Shoemaker wrote.

“However, we recognize that the decision to exclude athletes solely on the basis of their nationality also goes against the fundamental principles of the Olympic movement.

“We are open to exploring a path to host neutral Russian and Belarusian athletes who at least meet the conditions set out by the IOC Executive Board in its statement of January 25, 2023.”

Ukraine was firmly against it

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wants Russian athletes barred from Paris, declaring: “Every neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood.”

Among the conditions set by the IOC for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in Paris under a neutral flag with no anthem, flag or colors is that they cannot actively support the war in Ukraine.

As soon as the IOC opened the door to a possible participation in Paris, Russia and Belarus were invited to the Asian Games, which are an Olympic qualifier, later that year.

“As this situation evolves, the COC is committed to continuing to work with its Athletes’ Commission, membership and board to shape our position and recommendations to the IOC,” Shoemaker said.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee had taken a similar stance, quoting Chairman Gene Sykes from a letter he wrote to athletes and others.

“Having listened to many athletes and voters across the United States, we recognize a real desire to compete against the best athletes in the world – but only if it can be done in a way that ensures safe and fair play,” Sykes wrote .

Neutral athletes since 2018

Russian athletes have competed as neutrals since the 2018 Winter Games over a widespread doping scandal in Russia’s Sochi in 2014.

The International Paralympic Committee has banned Russia and Belarus from the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Games on the eve of the opening ceremony.

In November, Canada was among IPC members who voted to suspend the Russian and Belarusian Paralympic Committees until further notice.

Karen O’Neill, CPC’s chief executive officer, was unavailable for comment Thursday.

The 2024 Summer Olympics will begin on July 26th and end on August 11th, followed by the Paralympic Games from August 28th to September 8th.

Montreal-based organization Global Athlete said allowing Russians and Belarusians to compete for medals in Paris sends a message that the IOC supports Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The IOC is strengthening Russia’s propaganda machine, strengthening the Putin regime and undermining peace,” Global Athlete said in a statement.

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