Russian athletes must prove independent and neutral status – Sports Minister

The have been calls for further international sporting sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine

Jim van Wijk
Wednesday 30 March 2022 16:51 BST
Russia and Belarus have been hit by sporting sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Russia and Belarus have been hit by sporting sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston insists any individual athletes from Russia or Belarus wanting to take part in UK events must show they are ‘genuinely independent and neutral’ – with the assurance backed up by a written declaration.

Earlier this month, 37 countries joined together to make a collective call for further international sporting sanctions on Russia and Belarus following the invasion of Ukraine.

Brokered by the UK, the strongly-worded statement followed a virtual summit convened by Huddleston and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries on March 3, with France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and the United States among the signatories.

At the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Russian athletes did not compete under their nation’s banner and instead represented the ROC (Russian Olympic Committee).

The International Paralympic Committee, though, later opted to ban both Russia and Belarus athletes from the Winter Paralympics in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

Governing bodies continue to make their own decisions, such as the British Boxing Board of Control banning fighters registered by either of the Russian or Belarusian federations from boxing in the UK.

Huddleston maintains if any individual from those countries did want to request entry to a competition hosted in the UK, then it should only be considered under a specific set of criteria.

“I have had a good meeting with various governing bodies about what we are doing in terms of sanctions and bans for individual athletes,” Huddleston said.

“We did make the request to governing bodies relating to individual sports people that if they (Russians or Belarussians) wish to participate in a UK sport, they are independent and neutral – and genuinely so.

“We wish to get the assurance of that in a written declaration that they are not receiving money from (Russia president Vladimir) Putin, Russia or Belarus. That they will not be making supportive comments of Putin, Russia or Belarus.

If people are saying they are neutral athletes, we want the assurance that they are genuinely neutral and therefore there isn’t any connection with Putin

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston

“We are requesting governing bodies or individual events seek that assurance in advance if they are going to allow neutrals to play.

“If people are saying they are neutral athletes, we want the assurance that they are genuinely neutral and therefore there isn’t any connection with Putin.

“If some individual sports or entities choose to do an outright ban of Russian or Belarussian athletes, then we will support that as well.

“But if they chose to go down the neutral route, then we are requesting they get that assurance.”

Despite their current ban from international football, Russia have declared an interest in rivalling the UK and Ireland for the right to host Euro 2028.

The Football Union of Russia has not been suspended by UEFA as things stand, which meant it was able to submit the interest in bidding.

However, it is understood senior figures at Europe’s governing body hope Russia’s bid can be quickly dismissed within the organisation’s own regulations.

Huddleston said: “Government policy is that Russia is a pariah on the world stage when it comes to sport. They should be treated as such and that remains the case.”

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