Czech officials say IOC recommendation “mockery of Olympics spirit”

The executive board meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland

Czech government officials, the Czech Olympic Committee and the National Sports Agency have criticized the International Olympic Committee’s recommendation that individual athletes from Russia and Belarus be allowed to take part in international sports competitions as neutral athletes. They argue that this is a mockery of the Olympics spirit of peace and fair play.  

Tuesday’s recommendation from the International Olympics Committee for sports organizers to consider allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in international competitions as neutral athletes has met with a strong negative response from Czech politicians and sporting unions alike.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala said he was disappointed with the IOC’s decision.

“While respecting the autonomy of the sporting environment, I must say that I do not consider the participation of Russians and Belarusians in key sporting events to be appropriate. Ukrainian athletes are fighting for their freedom, for their lives, they cannot train, they are suffering and opening the door to Russian and Belarusian athletes under these circumstances would distort the basic idea of the Olympic movement” .

Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský said the condition stating that Russian and Belarusian athletes can only compete as neutrals, with no flag or anthem, and athletes who are members of the Russian military or domestic security forces should be excluded from sporting events, is not sufficient justification of the move.

“Hundreds of athletes and coaches have died in Ukraine; it is an enormous human tragedy. Russia has trampled on the Olympic ideals and violated international laws, including the UN Charter.”

Jan Lipavský | Photo: David Taneček,  ČTK

The Czech foreign minister pointed out that sport in the two countries is state-financed and strongly tied to government propaganda and said he was convinced Russian and Belarusian athletes should be banned from all international sports events, including the Olympics.

Although the IOC has not yet decided whether to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate in the 2024 Olympics in France and the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy, the Czech National Sports Agency fears that, by a salami technique, this recommendation may open the door to that possibility.

"I was very surprised by the IOC decision. Our position on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes has been the same since the beginning of the war - as long as the war lasts, no athletes from the countries that provoked it should be allowed to participate in international sporting events, let alone the Olympic Games," the agency’s head, Ondřej  Šebek, said in response to the news.

Ondřej Šebek | Photo: Honza Ptáček,  Czech Radio

He later added that he plans to consult the matter with European partners and try to bring about a shift in the IOC's position.

"Major international sports associations in football, hockey, basketball, athletics and biathlon continue to exclude Russian athletes because of the war. The IOC is going in the exact opposite direction and is actually encouraging sports federations to allow Russian athletes to compete. We find this unacceptable and will seek to change the IOC's position.”

Meanwhile, speaking to Czech Radio from Kyiv, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister and former ambassador to Prague, Jevhen Perebyjnis said the IOC recommendation would be abused.

Jevhen Perebyjnis | Photo: Czech Radio

“Regardless of what flag they will compete under, Russian athletes will represent Russia and the Kremlin will use them to legitimize its aggression in Ukraine.”

The Czech Olympics Committee has set up a special commission led by seasoned diplomat and former Czech ambassador to the US Michael Žantovský, which should communicate with the IOC and put forward persuasive, legal arguments against the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the 2024 Olympic Games.