The sports minister of Lithuania announced on Friday that 35 nations, including the US, Germany, and Australia, will demand a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in the 2024 Olympics, adding to the uncertainty surrounding the Paris Games.
The action puts additional pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is struggling to save what is arguably the biggest athletic event in the world from being ruined by the violent conflict in Ukraine.
“We are going in the direction that we would not need a boycott because all countries are unanimous,” Jurgita Siugzdiniene said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy took part in the online meeting attended by 35 ministers to discuss the call for the ban, a Lithuanian sports ministry spokesperson said earlier.
The spokesperson said Zelenskiy’s message to participants was that principles of neutrality cannot apply to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“”A privilege to host @ZelenskyyUa today at our summit on Olympic participation,” British sports minister Lucy Frazer wrote on Twitter.
“It was a very productive meeting between 35 nations, and I made the UK’s position very clear: As long as Putin continues his barbaric war, Russia and Belarus must not be represented at the Olympics.”
With war raging in Ukraine, the Baltic States, Nordic countries and Poland had called on international sports bodies to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in the Olympics.
On Friday morning, as Ukrainian officials reported that a long-awaited Russian offensive was underway in the east, Russia unleashed a series of attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure in the cities of Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia.
After meeting with the leaders of the Czech IOC and the national sports organization, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky released a statement saying that “Russian aggression has resulted in the death of 231 Ukrainian sportsmen and coaches.”
“In addition, we are aware that 70% of Russian athletes are also military. Given the current climate, I find it unconscionable that these individuals compete in the Olympic Games when fair play evidently means nothing to them.”