Ukraine is ready to participate in the Paris Olympics next summer even if neutral athletes from Russia and Belarus take part, Vadym Huttsait, head of the war-torn country’s Olympic committee, said in a recent interview with Kyodo News.
Earlier this year, Ukraine hinted it could withdraw from the 2024 games if Russian or Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete, even under a neutral flag.
“Our athletes need to be at the Olympics,” Huttsait said. “Our flag will be at the opening ceremony, at the competitions, our athletes will represent our state so that everyone in the world will see that Ukraine is, was and will be.”
The International Olympic Committee said in January it would consider allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to international competition under certain conditions, including by competing as neutral athletes.
The National Olympic Committee of Ukraine objected to the idea at the time, arguing athletes from the two countries should be excluded completely and suggesting a boycott if they are allowed to participate.
But with a year to go to the games, the IOC on July 26 sent invitations to all countries except Russia and Belarus. Huttsait said the move made Ukraine finalize its participation in Olympic qualifying events.
“We do not pay attention to these athletes, because for us it is not clear at all who these athletes are, because (they are) under a neutral flag,” he said before clarifying Ukraine may still pull out.
“If the Russian federation and the Belarusian federation will participate under their own flag — we will not participate in this Olympics.”
The 51-year-old, who won the team sabre gold in fencing at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as part of the Unified Team representing the former Soviet Union, claimed more than three thousand athletes are defending his country.
Huttsait added that 340 of Ukraine’s athletes and coaches have already died and 343 sports facilities have been partially or completely destroyed since the war started in February last year.
“Our athletes cannot prepare in peace,” he said. “It is difficult psychologically…there is no athlete who has not each of the athletes killed or friends, or relatives, or parents, or members of their team.”
BY CH FAHAD KHAN JANDA