Lithuania with partners must do all they can to bar Russia from Olympics – parlt speaker

  • 2023-01-30
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – Lithuania and its Western partners must do everything possible to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in the Olympic Games, even as neutrals, Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, speaker of the parliament, said on Monday. 

Cmilyte-Nielsen said that a boycott of the 2024 Paris Olympics would be "an extreme measure" and that "it is too early to speak about it now". 

"At this stage, we have to do all we can to prevent Russian athletes from competing in the Olympics and in other major non-Olympic competitions, even under a neutral flag," she told reporters.

Cmilyte-Nielsen earlier on Monday met with other parliamentarians and government officials to discuss joint action to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in the Olympic Games as neutrals, as proposed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"With the war raging in Ukraine, and Ukrainian athletes, coaches and children being killed by Russian missiles every day, it is cynical to say that sports and politics should not be mixed," she told reporters. 

The speaker said that an international coalition must be built to speak out in different formats against bringing Russian and Belarusian athletes back to the Olympics.

"Russia and Belarus are using sport for their own propaganda and they will try to find ways, some tracks, to get back into the Olympic movement, into sports competitions," she said.

"Today, the vice-minister, my colleagues from the Seimas and I discussed what steps we could take and what initiatives we could join to urge sports federations to take into account the fact that there should be no way for Russian and Belarusian representatives to compete even under a neutral flag." 

The speaker said that the Lithuanian government is taking such initiatives, adding that she herself intends to table a Seimas resolution on the matter and has discussed the idea with her Estonia, Latvian and Polish counterparts.

The IOC said last week that "a pathway" for Russian and Belarusians to participate in the Paris Olympics as "neutral athletes" should be "further explored".

"No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport," it said in a statement. 

Deputy Education, Science and Sport Minister Linas Obcarskas confirmed that a statement by ministers from the region's countries on Russian and Belarusian athletes' participation is currently being drafted. 

"A statement is being coordinated; it will certainly not be from Lithuania alone," the vice-minister said. "We are analyzing the situation and what actions are being planned by other ministries and other countries."

"(The statement) will be published shortly. It will be signed by the region's countries, and we will definitely go to a larger (format)," he added. 

Lithuania's Olympic discus throwing champion Virgilijus Alekna, who now chairs the parliamentary Commission for Youth and Sport Affairs, said that Ukraine is considering boycotting the Olympics if Russian athletes are allowed to take part.

"The IOC is making a lot of efforts to get these athletes into (the Games), which is bad," Alekna said. "Lithuania's position is clear: Russian and Belarusian athletes should not be there." 

"I have recently spoken to parliamentarians from Ukraine; they are also considering what to do, and a boycott is an option they are not ruling out. For now, they have chosen the path of making efforts to keep Russians and Belarusians out of the Olympics," he said.  

The chairman of the parliamentary commission said that Lithuania is not considering a boycott, at least for now, and that he personally thinks that athletes should be free to decide whether to participate in the Olympics if Russians are allowed to compete.

"Even after the doping scandals, when sanctions against Russia were adopted, the main task of IOC President Thomas Bach was to travel around and find ways to bring Russian athletes back into the Olympics," Alekna said, commenting on the situation. 

"Honestly, now you can feel, too, that the person is very interested in Russian athletes' participation in the Olympic Games," he added.