Paris mayor changes mind over Russia Olympic ban

The mayor of Paris does not want Russia to compete at the 2024 Olympic Games while the war in Ukraine continues.

Anne Hidalgo said last month she was in favour of Russia competing under a neutral banner, but has changed stance.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said Russians and Belarusians may be allowed to compete as neutrals.

Hidalgo said “it is not possible to parade as if nothing had happened” while “the bombs continue to rain down on Ukraine”.

She added that a neutral banner “doesn’t really exist because sometimes there are athletes who are dissidents. They march and compete under the refugee banner”.

“The neutral banner was a subject of doping and that was the choice they had made,” she continued. “I am not in favour of that option. I would find that totally indecent.”

Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Paris Olympics if the IOC’s plan goes ahead.

Ukrainian world heavyweight boxing champion Oleksandr Usyk said any medals Russian athletes won under a neutral banner would be “medals of blood”.

In a video message directed to IOC president Thomas Bach, posted on his official Instagram account, Usyk said: “Russian Armed Forces invaded our country and kill civilians. Russian army is killing Ukrainian athletes and coaches and destroying sports grounds as well as sports halls.

“The medals that Russian athletes are going to win are medals of blood, death and tears. Let me wish you to have peaceful sky above you and to be in good health and happy.”

On Tuesday, the Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish Olympic Committees backed calls for the ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes to be upheld, saying “now is not the right time to consider their return”.

Last week, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland all voiced their opposition to the inclusion of athletes from Russia and Belarus, who were banned following the former’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said it would be “unacceptable” for athletes from the two countries to participate in 2024, while Poland’s sport and tourism minister Kamil Bortniczuk believes as many as 40 countries could boycott the next Olympics – thus making the whole event “pointless”.

The IOC called on federations to exclude athletes from Russia and Belarus following the invasion of Ukraine and banned the nations from the Winter Paralympics in March 2022 – though athletes were allowed to compete under a neutral flag.

Further sanctions were announced across other sports, including football, rugby, Formula 1, cycling and swimming, while Russian and Belarusian tennis players were banned from playing at Wimbledon.

However, the IOC said last month that it would “explore a pathway” for athletes from the two nations to compete at Paris 2024.

That move has been criticised in a joint statement from Athletes for Ukraine and athlete association Global Athlete, which said the decision shows the IOC “endorses Russia’s brutal war and invasion of Ukraine”.

The UK government condemned the plan as a “world away from the reality of war”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says allowing Russia to compete in Paris would amount to showing that “terror is somehow acceptable”.

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