VILNIUS - The Baltic and Polish sports ministers on Thursday called on international sports federations and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions.
The Nordic countries will also be invited to join the statement, the Lithuanian Education, Science and Sport Ministry, which initiated it, said in a press release.
"Sport is not above or beyond politics, so we, sports politicians, must take a firm stance and strive in a very united and purposeful way, together with national and international sports organizations, to ensure that sport does not become a cover for war crimes and a safe haven for those who support or perpetrate them," said Education, Science and Sport Minister Jurgita Siugzdiniene.
In their joint statement, the Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian and Polish ministers thanked sports organizations for their solidarity and assistance to Ukraine, while condemning the IOC's efforts to bring Russian and Belarusian athletes back to international competitions.
"At a time when free and democratic countries unite their forces to increase support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia's war of aggression supported by its ally Belarus and impose more sanctions on Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, the IOC launches the search for special forms of participation for athletes from Russia and Belarus in international sports competitions including the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, allowing sport to be used to legitimize and distract attention from Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine," they said.
"Efforts to return Russian and Belarusian athletes to international sports competitions under the veil of neutrality legitimize political decisions and widespread propaganda of these countries also through the use of sport as a distraction from the illegal aggression against Ukraine."
The ministers thanked "all international sport organizations and federations that have removed athletes and representatives of Russia and Belarus from international competitions and organizations" and called on the rest to do so immediately.
The statement calls on sports organizations not to change their position towards Russian and Belarusian athletes and representatives of these countries until Moscow and Minsk stop their aggression against Ukraine.
The ministers warned that "allowing Russians and Belarusians to return to the international competitions could also put athletes in a difficult position and under extra pressure by competing against Russians and Belarusians or facing them and their supporters at sport events".
"We will continue supporting Ukrainian athletes, coaches, sports staff, stakeholders and their country and defending our common values and interests of free and democratic states," they said.
The IOC suggested last week that Russians and Belarusians should be allowed to participate in the 2024 Paris Olympics as "neutral athletes".
"No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport," it said in a statement.
The Baltic states and Poland say they do not support such a move, and Latvia is even considering boycotting the Olympics if Russian athletes take part.