Latvian parliament confirms Russian and Belarusian sports ban

Latvia's national sports teams will from now on be prohibited from playing against the national teams of Russia and Belarus, according to the amendments to the Sports Law adopted in a final reading by the Saeima on Thursday, February 1.

The ban will also apply if athletes from the aggressor countries participate in the competition under a flag of convenience – or with so-called 'neutral status' according to sports administrators who want to see Russian and Belarusian athletes invited to compete.

As previously reported by LSM, the amendments to the law also provide for a ban on organizing national team sports competitions in Latvia, in which the national teams of Russia or Belarus participate under their own flag or 'neutral status'. The ban applies to adult, youth and junior competitions alike.

The main goal of the adopted amendments to the law is to re-emphasize Latvia's solidarity with Ukraine and to fundamentally block any Russian efforts to legitimize its war crimes through the sports industry, the press service of the Saeima said.

"The basic idea of ​​the amendments to the Sports Law is to determine at the national legislative level that Latvian team sports teams, for example, in basketball, football or hockey, cannot play games with aggressor countries Russian and Belarusian teams, neither on their own nor on a neutral field," said Dāvis Mārtiņš Daugavietis (New Unity), chairman of the Saeima's sports subcommittee. "This means that in case the Latvian national team is drawn to play against Russia or Belarus, the international sports organizations will have to respect Latvian legislation."

However, it is important to note that the amendments do not regulate the participation of Latvian athletes in the Olympic Games, and a final decision on the approach to be taken at the Paris Games ater this year is expected from the Latvian Olympic Committee.

Nevertheless, the decision could still have impact with Latvian athletes facing the prospect of having to probably concede games or matches if international sports governing bodies insist on the rehabilitation of aggressor state athletes. While that could be damaging to Latvian results, if a significant number of other countries were to follow Latvia's lead, competitions in which Belarusian and Russian athletes take part could fairly quickly be rendered farcical, which might force adinistrators to think gain about admitting such athletes while killing continues in Ukraine. 

Theoretically, the first opportunity for the Latvian national team to meet the national team of the aggressor country could have been in football, where the draw for the Nations League is due to take place on February 8. However, the Latvian national team in the C League has been included in the same basket as Belarus in the draw, so they cannot be drawn in the same group. Russia reains banned from participating in football tournaments by UEFA European national teams.

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