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Ukraine bars its national teams from competing with Russians and Belarusians


2022 Beijing Olympics – Skeleton – National Sliding Centre, Yanqing District, Beijing, China – February 11, 2022. Vladyslav Heraskevych of Ukraine holds a sign with a message reading ‘No war in Ukraine’. IOC/OBS/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

Ukraine has barred its national sports teams from competing in Olympic, non-Olympic and Paralympic events that include competitors from Russia and Belarus, the sports ministry said in a decree published on Friday.

The decision, criticised by some Ukrainian athletes, comes after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) angered Kyiv by paving the way for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year, initially using its ally Belarus as a staging ground for troops driving towards Kyiv.

The war, now in its 14th month, has killed tens of thousands, levelled cities and uprooted millions.

Ukraine had previously warned its sports federations that it would strip them of their status as governing bodies if their athletes competed on the international stage with Russians and Belarusians.

Asked about the decree, the head of the Ukrainian Association of Football told Reuters the UAF would comply with government decisions.

Andriy Pavelko, the sports official, said the body was currently making inquiries with the ministry about which competitions would be affected, as this was not clear.

Ukraine’s football team are due to play the next rounds of qualifiers for the 2024 European Championship in June.

Russia have been banned from competitions by European governing body UEFA due to the invasion, but Belarus are still participating, albeit in a different qualifying group to Ukraine.

“We are at war. We do not have the possibility to travel abroad without approval from the sports ministry,” Pavelko said, referring to the wartime ban on able-bodied men aged between 18 and 60 leaving the country without government permission.

The decree published on the Sports Ministry’s website overnight was signed by Deputy Sports Minister Matviy Bidnyi.

Some Ukrainian athletes, including Olympian skeleton racer Vladyslav Heraskevych, criticised the ban saying it would lead to the destruction of Ukrainian sports.

“If Ukrainian representatives are not present at competitions, then we completely vacate the international sports grounds and give the Russian/Belarusian representatives the opportunity to promote their narratives and propaganda,” he wrote on Twitter.

The IOC sanctioned Russia and Belarus last year but in late March it recommended allowing their athletes to compete as neutrals in international competition. It also opened the door to allow them to qualify for next year’s Summer Olympics in Paris.

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