COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The prime ministers of the three Baltic countries urged the International Olympic Committee to ban Russian athletes from next year’s Paris Games because of the war in Ukraine, saying Friday a boycott was a possibility.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said athletes from her country could be put in a situation where they are competing against Russians, claiming many of them “are soldiers.”
“I think that our efforts should be on convincing our other friends and allies that the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes is just wrong,” Kallas said, adding in Russia’s ally in the war. “So boycotting is the next step. I think people will understand why this is necessary.”
Her Latvian counterpart, Arturs Krisjanis Karins, called it “morally reprehensible” to allow Russians to compete at the Olympics.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania border Russia and gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. They have been strong supporters of Ukraine, another former Soviet republic, in the war.
Ukraine is steadfastly opposed to letting Russians compete.
On Wednesday, the Latvian Olympic Committee threatened to boycott the Paris Games if Russian athletes are allowed and called on other countries to form a coalition to pressure international sports bodies. It was the first national Olympic body other than Ukraine to threaten to boycott rather than compete against Russia.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda on Friday expressed support for the International Paralympic Committee’s decision to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions, the Baltic News Service reported.
“We support the IPC’s decisions to suspend the NPCs and to ban athletes from the countries, which started the unprovoked and unjustified war in Europe and violate international law and human rights, from competing,” Nauseda said after meeting with IPC president Andrew Parsons in Vilnius. “The international sports community cannot turn a blind eye to war crimes.”
The IOC is pushing sports federations to allow any Russians or Belarusians who have not been “actively supporting the war in Ukraine” and argues it would be discriminatory to ban athletes based on their citizenship alone. The Olympic body wants to let them compete as “neutral athletes.”
“Russian sportsmen will not fake it under a neutral flag because there is no neutrality in the current world,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said.
Other national Olympic sports bodies, including the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, back the IOC’s efforts to find a path for Russians to compete.