From left, Olympians Perdita Felicien, Jen Kish and Beckie Scott speak with CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault. The three retired athletes are among those who signed an open letter to the COC. (Sean Brocklehurst/CBC )
Congratulations to the 42 Canadian Olympians who have signed an open letter calling for the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) to reverse its support of Russians and Belarusian athletes at the upcoming Games.
“We condemn recent public statements issued by the COC supporting the ‘exploration of a pathway’ for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as ‘neutrals’ in the 2024 Paris Olympics,” the athletes said in a statement released earlier this week. “Opening the door to ‘neutral’ Russian and Belarusian participation — and by doing so walking back the sanctions that have been in place since the start of the war — sends a message that the COC is no longer concerned with Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. Recent remarks by COC officials endorsing conditions for ‘neutrality’ such as proving ‘they’re opposed to the war’ or not ‘tied to the Russian military’ are unfounded and out of touch,” they stated.
Indeed, allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in the Olympic Games as “neutrals”, which means under the Olympic flag, is actually a cop-out. In both the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (held a year later due to the Covid pandemic) and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Russia athletes participated under the Olympic Flag, but as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). That’s also how they were classified in the medal standings. So really, what’s the difference between competing for the Russian Federation, or competing for the ROC? It’s still Russia and everybody knows that.
What’s more, while Russia was already at war with Ukraine, it was still a limited conflict. The invasion launched on February 24 was a full-scale war intended not to grab a chunk of territory – but to destroy Ukraine as a nation altogether. It was accompanied by relentless bombing of civilian targets, rape, torture and just about every war crime imaginable. The only reason that Moscow failed in its ultimate objective to take all of Ukraine, was the courageous resilience of the Ukrainian army and people as well as the supply of Western armaments. It has become the bloodiest war to engulf the European continent since 1945.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says athletes should not be punished because of their passports. That really is a red herring. For Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union, international sports have always been a propaganda vehicle. Athletes who compete in the international arena have always maintained a very privileged status in Russia, precisely because they always have and always will be instruments of Russian propaganda. And due to the Kremlin’s obsession with winning at all costs, Russia is the greatest offender when it comes to the use of performance enhancing drugs and other forms of cheating. That alone should be enough to bar Russia’s athletes from competing in the international arena for many years.
Apparently, the IOC wants us to see things from the perspective of Russia’s athletes. Is it their fault Vladimir Putin decided upon a genocidal war? Some may even be against it. But how are we to know? The IOC qualification is simply that they have not voiced support for the war. So, silence is golden in this case.
But what about Ukrainian athletes? Over 200 have been killed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022.
• Archer Dmytro Sydoruk, who died defending Ukraine. After he was injured in 2014, Sydoruk represented Ukraine at the first ever Invictus Games – an event for wounded soldiers founded by Prince Harry – in 2017 and won a silver medal in archery.
• Ivan Bidnyak – a former silver medalist at the European Shooting Championship – who was killed while fighting in the Kherson region at the age of 36. He represented Ukraine at the World Championships and was the first Ukrainian to compete in shooting at the London 2012 Olympics.
• Eleven-year-old gymnast Kateryna Diachenko who was reportedly killed along with her father, mother and brother when a shell hit her house in Mariupol on March 10.
Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadym Guttsait has said allowing Russians to compete would further traumatize athletes affected by the war.
“The participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competitions will make it impossible for Ukrainian athletes to take part in them, because each of the Ukrainians suffered from Russian aggression in one way or another: They lost their relatives and friends, lost their homes, received psychological trauma, lost the opportunity to do what they love,” Guttsait, who also leads the Ukrainian Olympic Committee, wrote in a February 9 letter to IOC president Thomas Bach and other Olympic leaders.
And Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pointed out: “While Russia kills and terrorizes, representatives of the terrorist state have no place at sports and Olympic competitions… And it cannot be covered up with some pretended neutrality or a white flag. Because Russia is now a country that stains everything with blood — even the white flag. It must be recognized. And this must be recognized, in particular, at the level of the International Olympic Committee.”
Canada’s Olympic athletes have taken a very principled position that needs to be adopted by both the COC and IOC. As retired rugby player Jen Kish, one of the Olympians who signed the letter, told CBC News: “We want them to get the message that there is no middle ground here. You’re either on one side or the other. And what part of history do you want to be on?”
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