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The IOC does not respect the human rights of Ukrainian athletes, says an expert.

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Wiater demonstrates the world body’s indifference by permitting Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes.

PARIS:
A leading expert on human rights asserts that IOC president Thomas Bach and a UN expert ignored the human rights of Ukrainian athletes when weighing Russia and Belarus’s readmission into global sports events.

Patricia Wiater lamented that neither the International Olympic Committee (IOC) nor Alexandra Xanthaki, the UN special rapporteur on cultural rights, had addressed the issue of protecting the rights of Ukraine’s athletes.

Wiater was responsible for the legal opinion of the German Olympic Sports Confederation that justified the international ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes.

She spoke to reporters alongside Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian athletes following the IOC’s recommendation on Tuesday to allow athletes from Russia and Moscow ally Belarus to compete in upcoming international competitions as individual neutrals.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February of 2016, they have been largely prohibited.

Wiater asked via zoom during a press conference, “Are the proposed conditions of readmission sufficient to ensure the human rights of Ukrainian athletes are respected?”

“Are they proportionate and sufficient to prevent the misuse of sporting events for war propaganda?” asked the professor of international law and human rights.

“Unfortunately, neither the IOC nor the special rapporteur addressed this issue in their statements, but it is crucial when considering the issue of readmission.”

Although the IOC has not yet determined whether Russians and Belarusians can compete at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, their re-entry into international competition will allow them to qualify for the quadrennial sporting event.

In anticipation of the IOC recommendation, the fencing federation reopened its events to athletes from the two countries earlier this month.

More than 300 past and present fencers sent a scathing letter accusing Bach, himself an Olympic gold medalist in fencing, and interim fencing federation president Emmanuel Katsiadakis of favouring Russians over Ukrainians.

“Here, we’re talking about life, not just competition,” German fencer Lea Kruger said at the same press conference, dismissing as “insufficient” the IOC’s conditions for the Russians’ return.

At the end of last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reported that 228 athletes and coaches had been killed in the conflict.

If the Russians and Belarusians are permitted to compete as neutral athletes in the Olympic Games, there has been talk of a boycott.

Olga Kharlan, a great Ukrainian fencer who won an Olympic team gold medal in 2008, deemed it “unbelievable” that Russians might be at the Games but no Ukrainians.

“We must do everything we can to prevent Russians and Belarusians from leaving due to their actions and propaganda,” said a 32-year-old.

“As an athlete, I would, of course, like to go.

“However, as a Ukrainian citizen, it is difficult to imagine sitting next to them, knowing that they support the war or remain silent on it,” she told reporters.

Some of them represent the army that bombards Ukraine daily.

While World Athletics and its president Sebastian Coe received praise for banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from competition, other sports governing bodies were criticised for failing to match their words with actions.

Marta Kostyuk, a Ukrainian tennis player, was surprised by the WTA’s response when she and her teammates stated they would not play Russian opponents.

“Their response was that we will freeze your ranking, and once the war is over, you can return to competition,” she explained.

“This is absurd to hear. We have felt extremely discriminated against by the WTA, ATP, and ITF over the course of the past year,” she added.

Kostyuk called for the observance of “basic fairplay rules” but added, “We will continue to play because this is what we must do to keep our careers alive and fight.”

Lesia Tsurenko was surprised to hear Aryna Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion from Belarus, complain about being hated in the locker room because of the war.

She stated, “I believe this is another game they are playing, in which they are the victims and we are not.”

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