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Ukraine Lifts Ban On its Athletes Competing Against Russians, Belarusians

KYIV — Ukraine has ended its ban on its athletes competing against Russians and Belarusians in international competitions — so long as Moscow’s and Minsk’s athletes are participating under a neutral banner.

However, the ban is still in force stopping Ukrainians from competing against Russians and Belarusians who perform under their national flags, use the national symbols in public during sports events, or make any public statements or actions backing the Russian or Belarusian regimes. In those cases, Ukrainian athletes are recommended to immediately withdraw.

Ukraine’s sports ministry published the order on Wednesday.

The decision to ease the ban for Ukrainians to compete against Russians and Belarusians, which was imposed in April, came with the opening ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympics exactly one year away. Representatives from 203 National Olympic Committees got invitations, except for Guatemala, Russia and Belarus.

The International Olympic Committee has defended its decision to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete as individual athletes under a neutral flag, despite the Ukrainian government’s demand for an all-out boycott of the Games if Russians and Belarusians are allowed in.  

Earlier this year, referring to Kyiv’s boycott warning, the IOC said that “such a decision would hurt only the Ukrainian athlete community, and in no way impact the war that the world wants to stop, and that the IOC has so vehemently condemned.” 

At home, Ukrainian athletes greeted the lifting of the ban as great news.

An “athlete’s career stops if they do not compete,” Serhii Bezuhlyi, senior coach of Ukraine’s national rowing team on kayaks and canoes, told POLITICO. “It is very good that our athletes were given an opportunity to compete and beat Russians and Belarusians at the international sports tournaments.”

Just a day after Kyiv’s sports ministry lifted the ban, Ukrainian fencer and Olympic champion Olga Kharlan entered a tournament and beat Russian fencer Anna Smirnova, Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspline reported. 

According to the rules of the tournament, Kharlan and Smirnova had to shake hands after the match. Smirnova approached Kharlan for the handshake, but the Ukrainian fencer held out her saber, offering to clash weapons instead of shaking hands. 

Kharlan left the arena, while Smirnova remained for almost 50 minutes, demanding the organizers disqualify the Ukrainian fencer “for disrespect.” The organizers initially allowed Kharlan to compete in the next round but later changed their decision and disqualified the Ukrainian, giving her future Bulgarian opponent an automatic victory.


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