History ‘Should Teach Bach a Lesson’ Over Russian Olympic Conundrum: Olha Saladukha

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IOC president Thomas Bach should learn from history when it comes to his move to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at the 2024 Olympics, one of Ukraine’s most high-profile former athletes Olha Saladukha has told AFP.

It is approaching a year since Russia invaded Ukraine — with help from its ally Belarus — and Saladukha, now a lawmaker in the Ukrainian parliament, said it was unimaginable that Bach’s desire to have athletes from both countries compete in Paris should become reality.

Saladukha said Bach was “an intelligent person” and he should see the historic parallels between World War II and now.

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“Let’s remember what happened after the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where Hitler posed?” the three-time European and 2011 world triple jump champion told AFP.

“After the (Winter) Olympic Games in Sochi 2014, the war in Ukraine began.

“Even after the World War II, Germany was alienated from the Games (they were not invited to the 1948 Olympics).

“After this evil, it was difficult for the world to behave otherwise.

“We see the same thing here, especially since the war is still going on!”

Saladukha says she can see where Bach is coming from.

“Bach’s logic can be understood, but one cannot agree with it,” the 39-year-old said.

“He may want as many athletes as possible to compete.”

But she said “a murderous state, where the people, including athletes, support crimes, should be out of sports.”

The International Olympic Committee outraged Ukraine last month when it announced it was exploring a “pathway” to allow competitors from Russia and Belarus to compete at the Games in Paris, albeit under a neutral flag.

The head of Russia’s Olympic Committee Stanislav Pozdnyakov has said it was unacceptable that Russia be subjected to different conditions from those of other countries in Olympic competition.

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But Saladukha said in an interview by email: “The war continues and people die and cities are destroyed every day. And what do we see in Russia? Hundreds of professional athletes expressed their support for the war with Ukraine. But we did not hear that anyone spoke against the war.”

She claims that 220 Ukrainian coaches and athletes have been killed since Russian forces invaded.

“Tell me, under such conditions, is it honest and fair to allow Russians to compete even under a neutral flag?”

She believes, however, that the Belarus case is more nuanced and those who have protested against hardline President Alexander Lukashenko and live outside the country should be allowed to compete at the Olympics in the ranks of the Refugee Team, as was suggested last week by Poland.

Bach may be the bete noire for the Ukrainian athletes but Saladukha is impressed by the line taken by World Athletics supremo Sebastian Coe, who has barred Russian and Belarusians from his sport until Russia has left Ukraine.

“I would like to express my respect for Lord Coe,” she said.

‘We will succeed’

Another Ukrainian sportsperson, karate Olympic bronze medallist Stanislav Horuna, told AFP that Bach’s belief that “no athlete should be prevented from competing because of their passports” is inappropriate.

“(His) statement is right in peace time but it doesn’t suit the situation we have,” Horuna said.

“We have the war! And the country that started this unreasonable war should be excluded from the Olympic movement and ‘family’ in general.”

Horuna, the 2021 European champion, said it was naive to think the Russians were being punished if their athletes compete under a neutral flag.

“Medals that may be won will be afterwards promoted with the Russian flag and everybody will still know whose athlete is competing even if he/she competes under the white flag,” he said.

Saladukha, Horuna and Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling champion Zhan Beleniuk — who is also a member of parliament — hope political pressure from governments will force the IOC to back down. Otherwise, they warn, a boycott may be necessary.

“More than 40 countries are ready to boycott the Games if the Russians and Belarusians are admitted under a neutral flag,” Beleniuk told AFP.

“We will persuade the IOC together with all democratic countries up to the last moment to keep Russian and Belarusian athletes out.

“I believe we will succeed.”

Away from the politics there is the personal loss too — a childhood friend of Saladukha’s died in Mariupol and a track and field athlete she knew well was killed near Bakhmut.

“I know what it’s like to lose all your possessions and say goodbye to your usual life,” she said.

“But, yes, the hardest thing is to lose loved ones.”

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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)

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