Boxer Klitschko joins fight against Olympic path for Russia

Jan 30, 2023, 6:05 PM | Updated: Jan 31, 2023, 10:26 am
FILE - Former heavyweight boxing world champion Wladimir Klitschko leaves after a meeting with Germ...

FILE - Former heavyweight boxing world champion Wladimir Klitschko leaves after a meeting with German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck in Berlin, March 31, 2022. Olympic gold medalist Wladimir Klitschko has joined Ukraine’s fight against IOC plans to let some Russians compete at the 2024 Paris Summer Games, it was announced Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. The former heavyweight world champion has suggested in a video message sports leaders will be accomplices to the war if athletes from Russia and its military ally Belarus can compete at the next Olympics. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, file)

(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, file)

GENEVA (AP) — Olympic gold medalist Wladimir Klitschko has joined Ukraine’s fight against IOC plans to let some Russians compete at the 2024 Paris Summer Games.

The former heavyweight champion suggested in a video message published Monday that sports leaders will be accomplices to the war if athletes from Russia and its military ally Belarus can compete at the next Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee set out its preferred path last week for Russians and Belarusians who have not openly supported the war to qualify for Paris and compete in 18 months’ time as neutral athletes with no flag or anthem. Qualifying events would likely be in Asia.

That softening of the IOC advice given last February — that sports bodies should exclude Russia and Belarus from international events — provoked anger in Ukraine, which warned it could boycott Paris.

Klitschko’s one-minute statement filmed beside bomb-damaged buildings started “Dear Thomas Bach” in a direct challenge to the IOC president.

“The world is watching you, history will judge you. Good luck with your decision,” Klitschko said in the latest riposte from Ukraine trying to tie Bach closely to Olympic policy for Russia.

Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelenskyy directly invited Bach last week to visit Bakhmut, a wrecked city on the war’s current frontline, and his adviser Mykhaïlo Podolyak ended a stinging criticism of the IOC on Twitter with the words “Right, Mr. Bach?”

“You are the representative of the universal values of tolerance and peace,” Klitschko said on camera to Bach, who also won Olympic gold, in team fencing. “I tell you; the Russians are Olympic champions in crimes against civilians.”

“You cannot put your Olympic emblem on these crimes because you will be an accomplice with this abominable war,” said Klitschko, who won the superheavyweight title at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Klitschko’s elder brother, Vitali, is the mayor of Kviv and also a former heavyweight champion. They trained and fought for much of their professional careers in Germany, Bach’s home country.

Responding to criticism on Monday, the IOC said it “rejects in the strongest possible terms this and other defamatory statements.”

“They cannot serve as a basis for any constructive discussion,” said the Olympic body, which has cited a “unifying mission” to have all 206 national teams compete together peacefully.

The IOC also has pointed to human rights concerns at the United Nations that athletes must not face discrimination based solely on their passport.

The updated guidance must be weighed by governing bodies overseeing most of the 32 sports on the Paris program. Russian teams already cannot qualify for the Olympic soccer tournaments due to an international ban by FIFA, which cited security concerns and the probability some opponents would refuse to play.

While key Olympic sports like track and field and swimming excluded Russians and Belarusians soon after the war started, tennis and cycling have allowed the athletes to compete as neutrals.

Leaders of the umbrella group of Summer Games governing bodies will meet March 3 for talks on the Russian issues presented to them by the IOC.

The group, known by the acronym ASOIF, noted their members independence late Monday, stating “the importance of respecting the specificity of each federation and their particular qualification process” for the Paris Olympics.

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Boxer Klitschko joins fight against Olympic path for Russia