“We have not lost yet“. The quote is from Vadym Guttsait, the Ukrainian Minister of Sports and President of the National Olympic Committee. The war has not been lost yet. And we have not yet lost the fight to prevent the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international competitions.
The former fencer, Olympic champion in sabre by team at the Games of Barcelona in 1992, explained it to the AFP: Ukraine does not intend to slacken its pressure on the Olympic movement to prevent Russia to find its place on the international sporting scene. It hopes to weigh on the IOC, but also on international federations.
“We must keep up the pressure,” explained Vadym Guttsait. The IOC will probably understand that as long as there is a war in Ukraine, the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes is not appropriate. We hope that the big and strong federations will show solidarity with Ukrainians and will not allow Russians and Belarusians to participate in international competitions. We must defend our cause. We have not lost yet.”
At less than 500 days of the Games of Paris 2024 (D – 471 this Wednesday, April 12th), the fight led by Vadym Guttsait looks difficult. Certainly, several of the most powerful authorities of the Olympic movement, of which World Athletics, announced to maintain the suspension of the Russian athletes, as long as the conflict in Ukraine will last. World Aquatics (ex FINA) has postponed its decision to July at the earliest, excluding Russia from the 2023 World Championships in Japan.
But four Olympic sports – fencing, table tennis, taekwondo and wrestling – have decided in favor of a conditional return of Russian and Belarusian athletes. The list could still grow in the weeks to come.
As for the IOC, it is stalling, seeking to gain time, especially on a possible participation of the two countries in the Paris 2024 Games. But Thomas Bach, its president, raises the tone in front of the pressures exerted by the governments to make obstacle to Russia, repeating to the infinite the presumed independence of the Olympic movement in front of the political powers.
For Vadym Guttsait, the current situation in the conflict does not justify a reversal of the IOC and part of the movement. “Nothing has changed, it has just become worse, he said. How many cities have been destroyed, how many people have been killed – women, children!”
According to the latest figures, at least 273 Ukrainian athletes have died since the beginning of the Russian invasion in February 2022. Nearly 350 sports venues have been destroyed or damaged.
A boycott of the Paris 2024 Games? The threat was brandished several times by the Ukrainian authorities since the announcement by the IOC of a possible return of Russian and Belarusian athletes. It is still valid. But such a decision will not be authoritarian, says the Minister of Sports. It must be collective.
“It will be necessary to gather our federations and our athletes to decide which position to adopt, he explained to AFP. The decision will be difficult. The Games, it is the most important moment for each athlete. But the most important for us, today, is our victory in the war. Even if we don’t participate (in the Paris 2024 Games), it’s just a competition.”
While waiting for a decision which, Vadym Guttsait admits, is currently dividing the national sports federations, Ukrainian athletes are training and preparing themselves. The coming months will offer them a solid series of international competitions, where some of the most expected have already closed the door to Russian athletes. At the top of the list, the European Games in Poland, then the World Swimming Championships in Japan and the World Athletics Championships in Hungary.