Ukraine, Russia frustrated by IOC approval of neutral athletes

Officials from Ukraine and Russia have criticized the decision by International Olympic Committee to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in international competitions as neutrals.

Athletes from Russia and Belarus have been banned from most international competitions over the war in Ukraine, but guidelines issued by the IOC on Tuesday seek to allow for their gradual return.

The guidelines have infuriated Russian authorities, who said any move to deprive athletes of their national symbols is discriminatory.

"Such recommendations were characterized as containing elements of discrimination, which is unacceptable," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call. "We will continue to defend the interests of our athletes in every possible way."

Ukraine's sports ministry, meanwhile, issued a statement Wednesday saying it "condemns the partial change of the position of the International Olympic Committee."

"We have consistently advocated and will continue to insist that under the conditions of the unprecedented unprovoked military aggression of the Russian Federation with the support of the Republic of Belarus against Ukraine, which contradicts the principles of the Olympic Charter, representatives of aggressor states should not be present at international sports arenas," the ministry said.

Several of Ukraine's allies have also rallied against the change. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Wednesday that he would work to build a coalition to seek the withdrawal of what he called a "bad and wrong decision." Warsaw had a day earlier described the IOC's recommendations as shameful.

IOC president Thomas Bach said Tuesday that it would be up to the international sports federations to decide which athletes from Russia and Belarus can compete as neutrals, meaning without their national flag or country's anthem.

According to the guidelines, athletes from Russia and Belarus cannot take part in team events and must have a proven drug testing record, while athletes who support the war or are contracted to their countries' military or national security agency are excluded.

The recommendations made by the IOC executive board concern the return of athletes to international competitions but not specifically the 2024 Paris Olympics, for which a separate decision will be made at a later date.

Ukraine and some of its allies have threatened to boycott the Paris Games should Russians and Belarusians compete, even as neutral athletes.

Reuters contributed to this report.