LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP)— Moves to reintegrate Russian athletes for next year's Paris Olympics were strongly criticised by the British government on Thursday.
Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan described plans by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to provide a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to complete under a neutral flag as "a world away from the reality of war being felt by the Ukrainian people."
Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the IOC advised international sports federations last February to exclude athletes from their competitions.
However, on Wednesday, the IOC said in a press release that "no athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport."
The British government has offered military and humanitarian support to Ukraine since the invasion began.
Donelan said they would now work with "like-minded countries" to oppose the reintegration of Russian athletes.
"I want to be clear that this position from the IOC is a world away from the reality of war being felt by the Ukrainian people - and IOC president (Thomas) Bach's own words less than a year ago where he strongly condemned Russia for breaking the Olympic Truce and urged it to 'give peace a chance'," Donelan said.
"We will strongly condemn any action taken that allows President Putin to legitimise his illegal war in Ukraine - a position the IOC previously shared.
"We, and many other countries, have been unequivocal on this throughout, and we will now work urgently across like-minded countries to ensure that solidarity continues on this issue."
The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said on Thursday that she was in favour of Russian athletes competing at the 2024 Olympics as neutrals.
During a call on Tuesday, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said he had stressed to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that Russian athletes "should have no place" at the Paris Games.