Latvian Olympic chief: Russian and Belarusian athletes should not be in Olympics

On Monday, the Latvian Olympic Committee (LOK) is due to receive an official invitation to participate in the Paris Olympic Games, LOK President Jānis Buks told Latvian Radio July 31.

However, that comes amid uncertainty about the potential participation of athletes from aggressor states Russia and Belarus if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) goes ahead with plans to manufacture a convenient 'neutral' status to allow them to compete. Countries including the Baltic states and Poland are strongly against such a move. 

Russia and Belarus as countries will not receive invitations to the Paris Olympic Games, however, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has not yet decided whether to give the athletes of the two aggressor countries the opportunity to compete under neutral status. The IOC believes that this would avoid discrimination based on the nationality of athletes – though it had no such qualms when it came to banning the racist apartheid regime of South Africa from the Olympic movement in the 1970s. 

In Buks' opinion, the situation is changing very dynamically, however, he believes that the athletes of aggressor countries cannot participate in the Olympic Games in any capacity while the war in Ukraine continues, because it would be disrespectful to the memory of the victims of the Russian military and mercenaries. 

"As long as Russian troops are at war in Ukraine, my personal opinion is that Russia and Belarus cannot participate in the Olympics. It will be an absolute disrespect to those who have been killed, who have been driven from their homes," Buks said. 

"A lot depends on the position of the Ukrainians themselves," he said, adding that he will this week have a conversation with the President of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee to clarify many details in order to clarify Ukraine's position, which in turn would allow for a concrete definition of the LOK's position.  

Buks emphasized that even if a so-called 'neutral status' loophole is conjured into existence, it will not reduce the connection of Russian and Belarusian athletes to their countries. 

Athletes from aggressor countries would still represent their country, regardless of their status, which was proven at previous Olympic Games, where Russia as a country was denied a place due to its massive state-backed doping system – but Russian athletes were still allowed to compete, ironically under the Olympic flag.

"A neutral flag does not change the status of the aggressor countries in any way, because no athlete can prepare for the Olympic Games without the support of the country," said Buks. "Sports and politics definitely go hand in hand in Russia."

Buk said that LOK is ready to provide its athletes with everything they need during the preparation phase.

As far as Latvian participation goes, if the national basketball team wins a place in the Olympics, the Latvian olympic team could consist of around 50 athletes. Without the basketball players, it will likely be around 32-35 strong.

The LOK president has no doubts that Latvia has reasonable hopes of winning medals in Paris, but he refrained from making predictions.

"I believe our hopes are there. Right now it's very early [to judge]," Buks said. "As we know, historically, a wide variety of athletes have unexpectedly shot up and become Olympic medalists. I believe that these games will definitely be decorated with medals and we will have many reasons to be proud of our athletes again."

The Paris Olympic Games in 2024 will last from July 26 to August 11.

Later on Monday, LOK confirmed that the official invitation to Paris had been received. 


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