London | Svitolina honoured by Zelenskyy as opposition to IOC move grows

Elina Svitolina, Ukraine’s former top-ranked player, was back in her home country for the first time since the start of the Russian invasion last February as an an ambassador for United 24, the foundation founded by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to collect financial donations for Ukraine in the wake of the invasion.

"Of course, I want to be with her [baby daughter Skaï], but I have a bigger mission to do for free Ukrainian people. We were in Irpin and Bucha today. We walked the streets, and saw what happened to these cities, and the people who live there. It was very difficult emotionally. Elina Svitolina

The former World No 3 and Olympic bronze medalist met with him during her visit to the capital city of Kyiv and complimented the Ukrainian leader, saying: “Thank you for being a true leader of our nation.

”The Ukrainian people are UNITED like never before. Glory to Ukraine!”

She received a special commemorative plaque from the President in recognition of her war-relief efforts throughout her country’s invasion by Russia.

“I thank you, both for the projects that have already been implemented, and for your willingness to support the ‘Rebuild Ukraine’ direction,” Zelenksyy said. “I know that you have already done a lot. Returning housing to Ukrainians is an important and necessary mission.”

Over the course of the past 12 months, Svitolina has raised sizeable funds for doctors, paramedics, and medical supplies, as well as modern medical equipment.

The 28-year-old reiterated her call for a ban on Russian and Belarusian players from the 2024 Paris Olympics in an interview while there.

Russia and Belarus have been cast into the sporting wilderness since the invasion of Ukraine a year ago, but the IOC is exploring ways for athletes from both countries to compete under ‘strict conditions’ of neutrality.

“It’s going to be very sad, and the wrong message would be sent to the world if Olympics going to stay with the decision to put them [Russia and Belarus] under a neutral flag,” Svitolina said in an interview to the Associated Press. “I don’t think this is the right decision.

“You can see that in Russia, sports are connected to the government. Boycott would be one of the options because, obviously, what Russian army is doing to Ukrainian people, to Ukraine, it’s a horrible thing for us.

“I cannot imagine going to the Olympics, like nothing is happening to Ukraine.

“Our men and women are at the front line right now, fighting Russian soldiers, and dying for our country, and for our freedom as well,” she continued. “And I’m very firm with my decision that boycotting is the right way to do it.

“The Olympics are the biggest dream and ultimate privilege for athletes. They are the largest platform for inclusion and diversity in sports, capturing the attention of the world.

“With this in mind, we must stick to banning Russian and Belarusian athletes, sending a strong message worldwide, that we are united in the sanctions imposed against Russia and Belarus.”


Elina Svitlona received the award in recognition of her fundraising efforts as an Ambassador of United 24, the foundation founded by President Zelenskyy

@elisvitlolina/Instagram

IOC President Thomas Bach has warned the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine (NOCU) that it will violate the Olympic Charter if it boycotts next year’s Olympics in Paris over the participation of athletes from Russia and Belarus.

The NOCU is strongly opposed to the IOC’s move to potentially reintroduce Russian and Belarusian athletes under a neutral banner and is working to gain support from other National Olympic Committees, sporting organisations and IOC members to stop that from happening.

“The participation of neutral athletes with a Russian and Belarusian passport at the Olympic Games Paris 2024 has not even been discussed in concrete terms yet,” Bach wrote in a letter obtained by insidethegames,.

“Therefore, your letter to your fellow NOCs, to the International Federations, IOC members and to future Olympic hosts, pressuring them in an attempt to publicly influence their decision making has been perceived by the vast majority of them as, at the very least, extremely regrettable.

“It’s the responsibility of every NOC to uphold the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter and the autonomy of the Olympic Movement.

“A boycott is a violation of the Olympic Charter, which obliges all NOCs to ‘participate in the Games of the Olympiad by sending athletes’.”


Bronze Medallist Elina Svitolina is a staunch supporter of the Olympic Games but adamantly against the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes until war has ceased in Ukraine

© Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Meanwhile, also as reported by insidethegames, the Olympic Council of Asia has announced its readiness to welcome athletes from Russia and Belarus to its competitions, including this year’s delayed Asian Games in Hangzhou, and is devising a system for them to qualify for Paris 2024, but the move has prompted opposition from several European nations.

A statement jointly signed by ‘Ukrainian Athletes’ and the support group Global Athlete criticised Bach’s letter, claiming that the IOC’s ‘inverted stance toward the aggressor and the victim of this war flouts the Olympic Charter and undermines peace’.

“The letter to [NOCU] President [Vadym] Guttsait states that ‘Ukrainian athletes can continue to count on the full solidarity from the entire Olympic Movement’,” the statement read.

“What solidarity is the IOC offering with this decision? Solidarity is unity with a common interest – there is no interest among Ukrainians to see war criminals attend the Games under the mask of a neutral flag.

“We cannot accept the IOC’s ‘raison d’être’ – ‘to unite the entire world in peaceful competition’ – as sound reasoning for allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes back into the Olympic Movement.

“Uniting the world through peaceful competition is a utopian view that denies the role of sport in geopolitics and disregards the way sport is routinely used as a tool of authoritarian states.”

The Ukrainian Athletes and Global Athlete questioned how the IOC would ascertain which Russian and Belarusian athletes support the war, claiming there is ‘no distinction between the athlete and the state’ in the two countries.

They also argued that the IOC’s sanctions ‘strengthen [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s hold on power by allowing him to portray Russia as a victim of an international conspiracy while simultaneously touting the successes of Russia’s athletes’.

“The IOC continues to be on the wrong side of history and their letter is further evidence of the power Russia has over the organisation and the Olympic Movement,” the statement added.

“Sponsors, host cities, and national Governments must stop tolerating the IOC’s kowtowing to Russia. The time for the IOC to be held accountable is now.”

The Estonian Olympic Committee (EOK) Athletes’ Commission has claimed that the Olympic Charter is ‘not valid today’ while Russia continues its military assault on Ukraine.

The group, led by Beijing 2008 discus throw champion Gerd Kanter, also believe that there was ‘no trust’ in Russian athletes due to previous doping scandals, and argued that the majority of them were ‘military athletes’.

“Based on the above, Estonian Athletes’ Commission finds that the athletes and officials of the Russian Federation and Belarus have no place in the Olympic Movement before the peace agreement between Ukraine and the Russian Federation has been signed,” the EOK Athletes’ Commission wrote.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed parliamentarians in Westminster Hall on 8 February during a surprise visit to London

© Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Elsewhere, UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer is chairing a summit of 30 nations to coordinate an international response to fears that Russian and Belarusian athletes will participate at next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.

It is Frazer’s first major meeting in the role following her appointment by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on 7 February.

She is set to be joined by President Zelenskyy via a video link who will give a live opening address to delegates remotely.

Zelenskyy visited London this week to hold talks with Sunak before travelling to Brussels for a meeting with European Union leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, who it has been claimed by the IOC supports the participation of Russians and Belarusians under a neutral banner.

“President Zelenskyy told the UK in Parliament this week of the suffering still being felt by many Ukrainians,” said Frazer. “As he did so the International Olympic Committee was continuing to ignore the international allies stepping up their efforts for peace and disregard how the Olympics will give Putin the perfect platform to promote Russia and legitimise his illegal war.

“We’re approaching a year since this barbaric invasion began. We must urge the IOC to show that the Olympic values mean something.

“We must make clear there are consequences to this illegal invasion. We cannot allow Russian athletes to line up alongside Team GB and everyone else on the world stage.”

The UK Government strongly condemns the move from the IOC as ‘a world away from the reality of war’.


Elina Svitolina is planning to return to the WTA Tour in April and has been training in the gym

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Meanwhile, Svitolina has also told the AP that she currently plans to return to tennis in April, following the October birth of her daughter, Skaï, whom she shares with husband and ATP pro, Gael Monfils.

While in Kyiv, Svitolina also paid a visit to a maternity hospital in the city to donate a generator to support its operations, telling AP that the visit recalled her own memories of the invasion shortly after she discovered she was pregnant.

“It was extremely stressful for me,” she said. “I was still playing on the tour then, competing at some tournaments. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t live my life normally. It was a horrible time for me.

“Visiting the maternity centre really reminded me what I was going through, and how strong these women are.”

In addition to her visit to the capital, Svitolina also visited Odesa, her hometown, and had a reunion with her grandmother, Tamara.

Svitolina’s trip to Ukraine marked the first time that she had been separated from Skaï for an extended period since her birth.

“Of course, I want to be with her,” she said, “but I have a bigger mission to do for free Ukrainian people.

“We were in Irpin and Bucha today. We walked the streets, and saw what happened to these cities, and the people who live there. It was very difficult emotionally.”


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