State-funded Russian and Belarusian athletes must remain excluded – Lucy Frazer

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Russian and Belarusian athletes who receive state funding cannot be considered neutral and must remain excluded from international sport, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has said.

Last month the International Olympic Committee published criteria under which global sports federations may consider readmitting athletes from those countries amid their invasion of Ukraine.

The recommendations say only individual athletes from those countries should be allowed to compete – not teams.

The IOC has postponed a decision on whether athletes from those countries will be allowed to compete at the Paris Games next year, but the recommendations mean that, in some sports at least, Russian and Belarusian athletes will be able to enter Olympic qualification events.

Frazer and France’s Olympics and Paralympics minister Amelie Oudea-Castera called for clarity regarding state-funded athletes in statements published on Tuesday as part of a Council of Europe hearing on Russian participation in international sport.

Frazer said athletes in receipt of funding from the state, or from state-controlled companies such as Russian energy giant Gazprom, were “de facto representatives of those states”.

“They are only there by virtue of being funded by, trained by, selected by, supported by, the Russian state,” she added.

“We have seen the IOC start to address some of our concerns and that is to be welcomed, but the IOC’s recommendations do not go far enough for us and they leave far too many unanswered questions.

“There is no reference anywhere in the recommendations to state funding, which I have said is a breach of neutrality.

“None of us should countenance the idea of a Ukrainian athlete being forced to share a pitch, a court, a field, a starting line with state-sponsored athletes from Russia and Belarus.

“The IOC must clarify their position or go back to the drawing board. Resolve the issues I have set out today.

“Implement an approach that guarantees only truly neutral athletes can participate.”

Frazer also said it was crucial to ensure other loopholes were not exploited, such as contracts with the military or security agencies being paused for long enough to enable athletes to compete.

Self-funded tennis players from Russia and Belarus will be able to take part at Wimbledon this summer provided they sign declarations of neutrality and do not express support for the war.

Oudea-Castera accepted the IOC had the right to take the “sovereign” decision but agreed with Frazer that there were “open issues” where clarity was required, including whether the exclusion of teams extended to sports featuring pairs of athletes competing together.

Gaby Ahrens, the chair of the athletes’ commission of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa, appeared at the hearing on behalf of the IOC.

She said: “If the Olympic Games become a platform only for athletes coming from like-minded countries or whose governments are at peace, it would not be a true reflection of the world and we would not be able to achieve our mission to unite the world in a peaceful competition despite the differences there are between countries and people.

“If governments took over the decisions regarding which athletes can partake in which competition, it would mean the end of world sport as we know today.”

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