— Published 10 March 2023

Athletes appeal to the COC

The Russian and Belarusian issue is dividing the Canadian Olympic movement. More than 40 current and former athletes have co-signed an open letter, published on Wednesday 8 March, in which they call on their National Olympic Committee (COC) to reconsider its position on the possible participation of delegations from both countries in the Paris 2024 Games. “We condemn recent public statements by the COC supporting the “exploration of a pathway” for Russians and Belarusians to compete as “neutrals” at the Paris 2024 Olympics,” the letter says. “Opening such a door sends a message that the COC no longer cares about Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine” the signatories said. The statement was signed by several Olympic champions, including Hayley Wickenheiser (ice hockey), Jenn Heil and Alex Bilodeau (freestyle skiing), Tessa Virtue (skating) and Beckie Scott (cross-country skiing). “Isn’t it absurd to have an abuser at the Olympics, and at the same time the victims at home, giving up their dreams? Isn’t it absurd to see the bully win? It doesn’t even make me want to watch the Olympics, it’s sad,” Jen Kish, a bronze medal-winning rugby sevens player at the Rio Games, asked on a TV show on Wednesday 9 March. In response to this open letter, and to the broadcast of the programme, the COC issued a statement on Thursday 9 March. “Our position, which has remained the same for a year, is that we support the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes from international sport as long as the invasion continues,” the National Olympic Committee wrote. This position is consistent with the recent statement, signed by Canada and over 30 other countries, calling for the ban to continue in the absence of clarity and concrete details on a workable model of neutrality. The Canadian Olympic body also explained in the same statement that it had proposed to hold a special meeting between its board of directors and the athletes who signed the letter in order to have a real dialogue. “Our requests to have this conversation, which date back to early February, have so far been denied, but our door remains open,” the COC said.