Group of 35 nations ‘again ban’ on Russian and Belarusian athletes at Paris Olympics
A group of 35 countries are to demand that Russian and Belarusian athletes are banned from the 2024 Olympics over Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, according to Lithuania's sports minister.
Countries including the UK, the US, Germany and Australia, are said to be among those backing calls for the ban ahead of the Paris Games.
Earlier this week the Olympic committees of Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark backed calls for the ban, while Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland have previously voiced their opposition to the inclusion of Russian athletes.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia's presence at the Games "stains everything with blood – even the white flag" of the Olympics.
During a virtual summit of sports ministers, chaired from London, he said: "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.
"The mere presence of representatives of the terrorist state is a manifestation of violence and lawlessness."
The UK government is now coordinating a collective statement for the IOC, which is expected to be agreed and published in the coming days.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has so far been desperate to avoid what is arguably the world's biggest sporting event being torn asunder by the war in Ukraine.
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The IOC has previously said there are no plans for a Russian or Belarusian delegation at Paris 2024.
However, the committee has said it will "explore a pathway" for athletes from the two countries to compete under strict conditions as neutrals.
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Ukraine's sports minister Vadym Guttsait, who is also president of the country's own Olympic committee, said it could boycott the Games if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete.
However, Lithuania's sports minister Jurgita Siugzdiniene said: "We are going in the direction that we would not need a boycott because all countries are unanimous."
Lucy Frazer, the UK's Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said during Friday's virtual meeting: "Russia has destroyed Ukrainian sporting infrastructure and stopped opportunities for Ukrainian athletes.
"There is danger here that the world wishes to move on and back to business as usual.
"However, the situation in Ukraine has not changed since the IOC's initial decision last February on banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from competition."
In a post on Twitter after the summit, she added: "It was a very productive meeting between 35 nations, and I made the UK's position very clear: As long as Putin continues his barbaric war, Russia and Belarus must not be represented at the Olympics."
The IOC has said a boycott would violate the Olympic Charter and that its inclusion of Russians and Belarusians is based on a UN resolution against discrimination within the Olympic movement.
At the last Olympics, in Tokyo, Russian athletes competed under the flag of the Russian Olympic Committee after the country was banned from fielding participants in the wake of Russia's state-sponsored doping scandal.
Paris 2024 organisers have said they will abide by the IOC's decision on the issue.
The Olympics are due to run from 26 July to 11 August in the French capital next year.