By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee reaffirmed its support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia on Thursday, but at the same time left the door open for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in the Olympics. Paris as neutral.
In leading his first meeting as chairman of the committee, Jean Sykes began by confronting the problem head-on. The body rests with Ukraine, but he said he was considering asking for a process that would allow “truly neutral” athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete in next year’s Olympics.
“The only topic I would like to address directly is the issue of Russian athletes in international sports and the possibility of the Olympics and Paralympics in Paris,” Sykes said.
“Although the conversation has changed over time, our position has not changed. Above all, we stand in solidarity with the people and athletes of Ukraine.”
Ukraine has been at the forefront of calls to ban all athletes from Russia and Belarus, which was used as a stage for Russia’s so-called special action, after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said in January it was open to neutralizing them. The IOC also established a pathway for neutrals to qualify for the Paris Games.
A key concern of the US team is how the IOC will determine the criteria for a neutral athlete, and the body wants the sanctions to remain in place.
“We encourage the IOC to continue to explore the process of safeguarding existing sanctions so that only truly neutral and clean athletes are welcome to compete,” Sykes said.
“Only if these conditions of neutrality and fair and pure competition can be met can we hope that the spirit of the Olympic Games can prevail.”
“What does neutrality really mean, and what are the conditions for neutrality?” He added.
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