MOSCOW: The head of Russia’s Olympic Committee today accused the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of picking sides after it urged sports federations to show sensitivity when handling Ukrainian athletes.
“The statement in question indicates that the IOC determined for itself and picked a side in the political conflict, (and) began to act in the interests of this side,” Stanislav Pozdnyakov said on Telegram.
Yesterday, Ukrainian fencer Olha Kharlan was disqualified at the World Fencing Championships in Milan after refusing to shake the hand of her beaten Russian opponent Anna Smirnova.
The rules of the International Fencing Federation (FIE) state that the two fencers must shake hands.
Following the incident, the IOC urged international federations to “handle situations involving Ukrainian and individual neutral athletes with the necessary degree of sensitivity”.
According to Pozdnyakov, these remarks “clearly showed the duplicity of the so-called recommendations, criteria and parameters.”
“Now we have been involuntarily but clearly shown the attitude which absolutely any Russian will face at international competitions”.
“Olympism is officially being made a tool controlled from the outside in the interests of a geopolitical order to neutralise our citizens and organisation in sports.”
Since Russia launched its offensive in Ukraine, the IOC imposed sporting sanctions on Moscow and its ally Minsk, but earlier this year it recommended that Russian and Belarusian athletes could compete as individuals in qualifying events under a neutral flag and with no anthem.
The decision provoked howls of protest from both the Ukrainian government and their athletes criticising the IOC for placing the human rights of Russian athletes above theirs.
This resulted in Ukraine barring their athletes from competing at events where Russians and Belarusians were – tennis being the exception as it has been since the invasion as they compete as individuals.
The IOC has not yet made a decision on whether Russians and Belarusians and can take part in the 2024 Paris Olympics as neutral competitors.
Ukrainian judokas missed out on the world championships but on Wednesday Ukraine’s sports minister Vadym Gutzeit changed tack dramatically and permitted his country’s athletes to compete as individuals.
This paved the way for four-time world sabre champion Kharlan to take on and beat Smirnova. In not shaking hands with the Russian, she followed the examples of the tennis players but under the rules of fencing she was disqualified.
The 32-year-old remained unrepentant despite sacrificing invaluable qualifying points for the Olympics – the one individual title to elude her so far, though she has the sabre team title from 2008.
“My message today is that we Ukrainian athletes are ready to face Russians on the sports field but we will never shake hands with them,” said Kharlan, whose black card also rules her out of the team competition.
“All I know is that I really made the right choice,” she said.
“There is something more important than medals – my country, my family.”
Globally speaking, the change of policy from sports minister Gutzeit potentially reduces the chances of a Ukrainian boycott of the Paris Olympics as it forbids athletes only from competing against those representing the Russian Federation and Belarus, when in fact most Russians are competing as neutrals.
As for Russia’s participation in Paris, Pozdnyakov said that if Russian athletes are able to go, it will be “only a few” and “it remains to be seen what the new conditions will be and at what stage they will be imperatively put forward”.