The Ukrainian sports idol Oksana Bajul almost whispers her request for help to Thomas Bach into a camera. In a training jacket in her national colors, the 1994 Olympic figure skating champion addressed "dear Thomas" with a 51-second message.
There is this war in Ukraine that her compatriots didn't start, says Bajul. "That's why we don't want neutral athletes from Russia to take part in the 2024 Olympics. Help us," the 45-year-old concludes her appeal to the head of the International Olympic Committee.
Even after the IOC vote to smooth the way back into world sport for athletes from Russia and Belarus, the case for the sports community in Ukraine is anything but settled. On the contrary: the country's sports management has increased the stakes again. According to a decision by the Ministry of Sports, official delegations from Ukraine are now banned from participating in international competitions with Russians and Belarusians. In the event of violations, the national sports federations are threatened with the withdrawal of their official status.
"Unacceptable" for Ukraine is a meeting with Russians and Belarusians at international sports competitions as long as the war lasts, emphasizes Sports Minister Wadym Hutzajt again and again. Sports federations that open the door to Russian and Belarusian athletes do not understand the situation in Ukraine. "The fact that many people are being killed here, dying, that a genocide is being committed against them. If they saw it with their own eyes, they would change their position," Hutzajt told Deutschlandfunk before the IOC decision was made.
IOC responded with a sharp tone
Russian sports leaders condemn the boycott threats from Ukraine as an attempt at blackmail. The IOC also reacted in a sharp tone. The specifications of the Ministry of Sports would "raise serious questions about the autonomy of sport in Ukraine," warned the Olympic governing body.
"If such a decision were implemented, it would only hurt Ukrainian athletes and would in no way affect the war that the world wants to end and that the IOC has so vehemently condemned," the IOC said, reiterating that governments do not decide on the participation of athletes in competitions.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba sees things differently. "When international sports officials fail to live up to their principles, responsible governments must step in and deny entry to athletes who represent war and state propaganda," Kuleba said. He also praised the initiative of Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD), who had threatened athletes from Russia with an entry ban for competitions in Germany.
The ranks of Ukrainian athletes are also repeatedly calling on the world federations, which are now responsible again, to extend the ban on Russians and Belarusians. While several associations have already followed the IOC recommendations, some, such as athletics and equestrian sports, have so far refused to allow it again. "No Ukrainian athlete wants to meet Russian or Belarusian athletes in a competition or stand together on a podium. Especially not when it comes to contact sports," said wrestler Shan Belenyuk, who is also a member of the Ukrainian parliament.
Ukrainian athletes worried about their careers
Quite a few Ukrainians are also concerned about their careers as competitive athletes if they are denied starts in important competitions or the opportunity to qualify for the Olympics. The Ukrainian athletes "suffer enough already," warned Skeletoni Vladislav Heraskevich in the "taz" interview.
With a boycott of international competitions, the Ukrainian athletes are also deprived of the opportunity to draw attention to their situation on the big stage. "We would be in hiding, as if we had given up," Heraskevich said. At the Winter Games in Beijing last year, shortly before Russia attacked his country, he held a note for the camera that read "No war in Ukraine".
According to Thomas Konietzko, head of the World Canoe Federation, there are "different opinions" among Ukrainian water sports enthusiasts. When deciding on the future line, however, he cannot only consider the Ukrainians who do not want to play against the Russians.
"But there are also two-thirds of the associations that have a different opinion," Konietzko told the "Frankfurter Rundschau". His dilemma when it comes to the readmission of Russians and Belarusians: "We have to take a lot of things into account in order to make a decision that will hopefully also suit our Ukrainian friends."