Georgii  Zantaraia

Thirty years ago, I had to leave my hometown in Abkaziya, Georgia. I was just 5 years old, so it is difficult to fully remember the events.

However, the situation was the same as here in Ukraine. The bombing began at four in the morning. We had to leave the country, becoming forced refugees like millions of Ukrainians today.

Now it is happening in my life for the second time and seeing the horrors of war as an adult age is something that I hope no one witnesses in their life.

Seeing today that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) tries to lobby the return of athletes from Russia and Belarus is a brutal sign of their support not to the athletes from those countries, but to the propaganda machine which would then use the successes of those athletes in their favour. 

We have never had a chance to speak to the IOC Athletes' Commission, we did not have a single meeting together regarding return of those athletes to competitions. 

How can they speak for the athletes worldwide if they have never addressed us here in Ukraine and never spoke to us? How are the rights of Ukrainian athletes protected?

I categorically condemn the silence of Russian athletes. 

If they had chosen a clear position, we would have managed to save people's lives. Russians and Belarusians cannot remain in a neutral status. How can one remain in a neutral status with a Russian passport and at the same time prepare for competitions at the expense of the Russian Federation? 

Multiple sports faculties have been destroyed in Ukraine since the invasion ©Mykola Synelnykov
Multiple sports faculties have been destroyed in Ukraine since the invasion ©Mykola Synelnykov

In addition, after they become world champions or Olympic medal winners, they receive a prize fund that is spent in Russia. Therefore, they finance the war and the genocide of the Ukrainian people.

If a Russian athlete wants to compete in international competitions, they must speak out against the war, renounce his citizenship, go abroad and only then compete as a refugee. 

There should not even be other options. People die in Ukraine every day, and Russians continue to make money.

We sent letters to the Athletes' Commission of the IOC, with specific facts of violation of the principles of Olympic spirit by the Russians, conducting military propaganda at children's tournaments, as well as the use of symbols used to mark Russian military equipment that kills civilians. 

The athletes themselves are representatives of military clubs such as CSKA. 

I emphasize, our position is unanimous and reasoned, and I do not understand many athletes internationally who do not understand this or simply ignore the facts.

We did not receive information from the IOC Athletes' Commission about a possible return of the athletes from Russia and Belarus.

For example, I have read French biathlete Martin Fourcade’s personal statement. I consider this to be unacceptable. 

If he considers the denial of admission to be "discrimination", then I would like to invite Martin to Ukraine so that he can see the living conditions of the population of the frontline zone, forced migrants - is this not considered discrimination or a restriction from the accepted norms?

The training conditions of athletes are different. 

Tokyo 2020 gymnastics gold medallist Nikita Nagornyi leading a military parade in Moscow in May 2022 ©Georgii Zantaraia
Tokyo 2020 gymnastics gold medallist Nikita Nagornyi leading a military parade in Moscow in May 2022 ©Georgii Zantaraia

In Ukraine, 320 sports facilities were destroyed, many of them had international standards and were able to host relevant competitions and athletes could train there while being at home. 

It is also important to consider the mental component. Participation in competitions at the highest level requires maximum concentration and preparation. How can an athlete be mentally ready when he hears the sounds of an air alert? 

What does he think about when his relatives and friends may be under fire. However, today we show that Ukrainians are indomitable, despite the war, we win tournaments and raise the yellow-blue flag above our heads.

It is important to say about youth and mass sports, which have also experienced significant problems. 

Sport clubs are one-third full compared to 2021. 

I believe that direct Russian aggression stopped the development of sports in Ukraine, at least for ten years.

The position on non-admission should be uniform for all sports, because a different decision would lead to a precedent. We have already repeatedly heard about the statement, or rather, the manipulation of Thomas Bach, who cites the example of a Ukrainian tennis player who shook hands with a Russian player at a tournament, saying "if it is possible in tennis, why not in athletics?". 

For some reason, he does not give the example of Vitaly Sachko, who did not do this and even explained his position. Ukrainian athletes must compete with athletes who do not violate Olympic principles and support peace, not war.

Many athletes are seeking asylum abroad to train for international competitions due to destroyed faculties in Ukraine ©Mykola Synelnykov
Many athletes are seeking asylum abroad to train for international competitions due to destroyed faculties in Ukraine ©Mykola Synelnykov

Instead, the Russians can successfully compete with the Belarusians in some domestic tournaments and claim "scrapes of greatness".

Currently, I have no relations with the athletes of those countries.

At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, only three athletes asked how I feel and if I am safe, but there is no dialogue at this time. 

However, there are a number of messages on the social networks, where they wish me and my family to die soon, and the children who train in my hall to die from a missile strike.

Would I like to say something to athletes from Russia and Belarus? - No. 

They are busy listening to their propaganda and are incapable of critical thinking. Moreover, it will definitely not work to convince them. Better to focus on more important tasks.

Currently, there are many cities that have already been liberated from the Russian invaders. There is no infrastructure there, destroyed houses, often you can't even buy food. 

Such cities had football fields, sports halls, and swimming pools. How many statements have you seen from the IOC about help in reconstruction, patronage? 

Personally, I have not seen any statement. And we are not talking about civilian objects. Many Ukrainian children are now refugees in many European countries. Many have continued training, they are moving towards their goal, and I am grateful to the countries that support them in this.

I think that in a few years we will hear more than one story about a young athlete who fled the war, but managed to win European, world and Olympic medals, like it happened to me.

Our spirit to victory will not be broken!

Terror and Olympism are two opposites, they cannot be combined!