Kyiv mayor Klitschko says Russian athletes must denounce war to compete at Olympics

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian athletes should publicly denounce the war if they are to be allowed to participate in the 2024 Olympics, Kyiv mayor and former world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko told AFP Monday, Feb. 13.

Mayor of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, answers AFP journalists' questions during an interview in Kyiv on February 13, 2023, amid Russia's military invasion on Ukraine. (AFP)

"Russian and Belarusian athletes can't participate in the Olympic Games in Paris if they don't say 'no' to war," Klitschko said.

"If they publicly express against this war, they can (participate). But they're afraid," the former heavyweight boxer said.

Russia and its ally Belarus, which allowed its territory to be used as a launchpad when Moscow began its invasion of Ukraine last February, have been sidelined from most Olympic sports since the war began.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for a boycott of the 2024 Paris Olympics if Russian athletes are allowed to take part.

Klitschko appealed to athletes to "tell your government to stop this senseless war."

Kyiv has reacted furiously to the International Olympic Committee's announcement last month that it was exploring a "pathway" to allow Russian and Belarusian competitors to take part in the Paris Games, under a neutral flag.

Olympic chief Thomas Bach said Sunday that he shared the "grief and human suffering" of Ukrainian athletes, but said it was not up to individual governments to decide who takes part in international sporting competition.

Klitschko -- who along with his brother Wladimir held a range of heavyweight titles -- said people are either "for or against war."

"I would be very happy to invite Thomas Bach to Kyiv, to Ukraine so that he can see by himself the destroyed villages, the cities, to see how many people are killed.

"He doesn't understand... or plays some games with Russia."

The Polish Sports Minister Kamil Bortniczuk on Thursday said he expected 40 nations to come out against the inclusion of athletes from Russia and Belarus in the 2024 Games.