Ukrainian athletes ‘seeking safety in bomb shelters’ call for Russia and Belarus to be banned from international sport

The letter, addressed to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) |President Andrew Parsons, says Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a “clear breach of the Olympic and Paralympic Charters” and “must be met with strong sanctions.”

On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his country’s deterrence forces to be placed on high alert as fighting continued across Ukraine. Belarus is an ally of Russia and is being used as a launch point for Russian troops into Ukraine.

“Athletes, our countrymen, our families, and our friends are in grave danger as a result (of) this aggressive assault by Russia and Belarus on our country,” said the letter, signed by leaders from a number of sporting federations in Ukraine and released by start-up group Global Athlete.

“We plead with you [the IOC and IPC] to join the international community to sanction Russia and Belarus.”

It added: “Make no mistake, Athletes in Ukraine are united in this call. It has been a challenge to speak with all athletes from Ukraine as they are seeking safety in bomb shelters.”

The Beijing 2022 Paralympics get underway on March 4.

The Paralympic Winter Games are scheduled to get underway on March 4 and run until March 13.

According to the IPC, the majority of the Russian Paralympic Committee’s 71 athletes set to compete in Beijing will have arrived in the Chinese capital by Tuesday.

The Ukrainian team could total 20 athletes, although there is currently only a handful of support staff from Ukraine’s National Paralympic Committee (NPC) in Beijing.

“We are working hard with the NPC to ensure their participation at the Games. The safety of the delegation is our top priority, therefore we are not sharing information on their whereabouts right now,” the IPC told CNN.

Regarding the open letter signed by Ukrainian athletes, the IPC said it “has been contacted by several international organisations sharing their views regarding what path the IPC should take.

“The IPC Board, when discussing this matter at Wednesday’s Board meeting, will focus on the IPC Constitution and the rules of the IPC handbook.”

CNN has contacted the IOC about the letter — whose signatories include athletes from biathlon, luge, bobsled and skeleton federations in Ukraine — but is yet to receive a response.

Last week, the IOC urged all international sporting federations to relocate or cancel events currently planned to be held in Russia or Belarus, while also strongly condemning the countries’ breach of the Olympic Truce.

The Olympic Truce dates back almost 3,000 years to the early days of the ancient games when the leaders of three Greek city-states agreed to limit their battles. In modern times, the Truce has been invoked as a universal goal by the UN regularly since 1993.

On January 28, UN Secretary-General Antรณnio Guterres asked nations around the world to lay down their weapons and observe an Olympic Truce from seven days before the Beijing Games until seven days after the end of the Paralympic Games.

“Through the power of sports and the Olympic ideal, let us build a culture of peace,” he said.

CNN’s Aleks Klosok contributed to reporting.

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