Olympic Games and political neutrality

Published on February 5th, 2023

by Philip Barker, insidethegames
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently issued a challenge to Thomas Bach when he invited the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President to visit the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut where fierce fighting has been going on for several months now.

Zelenskyy invited Bach to Bakhmut to “see with his own eyes that neutrality does not exist” after the IOC confirmed that it was looking to explore a pathway to reintegrate athletes from Russia and Belarus under a neutral banner for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.

Zelenskyy’s invation came shortly after figure skater Dymtro Sharpar, who had represented Ukraine in the 2016 Youth Winter Olympic Games, and Volodymyr Androshchuk, a 22-year-old who was part of his country’s athletics team, representing them in the decathlon, were both killed during fighting in Bakhmut.

Volodymyr Androshchuk, a 22-year-old track and field athlete who was a member of the Ukrainian national team, also died in battle last week.

Zelenskyy’s invitation to Bach came in a video address where he stressed that “any neutral flag of Russian athletes is stained with blood”.

But Bach, who had visited Ukraine in July 2022 where he met Zelenskyy and discussed the restoration of sporting infrastructure in the war-torn country, turned down the invitation with a curt message from his media team, who said, “Currently there are no plans for another visit to Ukraine.”

The arguments over the potential participation of athletes from Russia and Belarus at Paris 2024 serve only to underline how the sporting world has struggled for more than a century to come to terms with the concept of “political neutrality”. – Full report

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