Published By: Ritayan Basu
Last Updated: March 28, 2023, 15:54 IST
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach (Reuters)
International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach has been keen to find a “pathway” for athletes from Russia and Belarus to at the very least try and qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris
More than 300 active and former fencers have called on Olympic chief Thomas Bach to uphold the ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes when he and the decision-making board of the International Olympic Committee meet on Tuesday.
Bach, who won Olympic fencing team gold in 1976, has been keen to find a “pathway” for athletes from Russia and Belarus to at the very least try and qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Athletes from both countries have faced differing sanctions from a multitude of sports since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.
The FIE, the world fencing body, ruled earlier this month to allow Russian and Belarusian fencers to return to international competition, becoming the first Olympic sport to reopen its events to athletes from the two countries.
In a hard-hitting letter, the fencers including 2020 Olympic women’s foil champion Lee Kiefer of the United States accuse Bach and the interim president of their federation, Emmanuel Katsiadakis, of prioritising Russians ahead of Ukrainians.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion has wreaked havoc on Ukrainian sports with “232 athletes being killed, 343 sport facilities being destroyed, 40,000 athletes forced abroad, and 140,000 young athletes left without sport facilities”, they wrote.
“With complete disregard for athletes’ voices, you have permitted both Russia and Belarus back into FIE competitions, as well as a suspected tournament hosted on Russian soil.
“This is an apparent breach of the IOC’s position that ‘no international sport events are to be organized or supported by an IF or NOC in Russia or Belarus’ and once again exposes Russian interests outweighing the voice and rights of athletes, especially those from Ukraine.”
‘Putin’s war chest’
The IOC have said it is hoped Russian and Belarus athletes can compete in Paris as neutral athletes — without any national emblem and dressed in white.
However, the fencers highlight how it is hard to separate the Russian athletes from the state.
Russian fencers are a traditional powerhouse in the sport — in 2020 Russian women won three of the six titles on offer and three minor medals whilst the men won two silver team medals.
“Not only have these athletes been encouraged to fight in the war by the Russian Olympic Committee, with a large majority of them holding military and law enforcement positions, but they are also beneficiaries of state funding -– drawing their pay from Putin’s war chest and thus making any separation between the state and the athlete implausible,” the fencers wrote.
The fencers said even if Russian athletes were to compete as neutrals and win medals Putin would still use them as propaganda tools.
“Athletes were and will be instrumentalized for Putin’s propaganda,” they said.
“Competing under a neutral flag has not proven to be a suitable sanctioning instrument in the past and is not suitable now.”
The fencers said that until Russia withdraws from Ukraine a total ban must be in place on athletes competing.
“We call on you in your leadership capacity of the IOC to uphold your recommended suspensions of the Russian and Belarusian Fencing Federations and National Olympic Committees and ensure the FIE adheres to your guidelines,” they said.
“Any suspension must reject the notion of neutrality and include the banning of all Russian and Belarusian athletes from international sport, including hosting events, qualifying for, and competing at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games until Russia withdraws completely from Ukrainian territory.”
Their stance echoes that of World Athletics, which last week renewed its blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes.
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)