Victoriia Us, of Ukraine, competes in canoe in Paris. GETTY IMAGES

Just days after it issued a list of recommendations to its Paris 2024 athletes on how to behave in the presence of rivals from Russia and Belarus at the Games, the Ukrainian Olympic Committee protested against the participation of said countries in the canoeing qualification tournament in Szeged.

Sports Minister Matwij Bidnyj, the President of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee (UOC), Wadim Gutzait, and the President of the Canoe Federation, Ihor Sliwinskyj, demanded the exclusion of a total of nine athletes from Russia and Belarus in a joint joint letter directed at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Canoe Federation.

“We wish to inform you that it has come to our attention that the teams (doubles) of Russian and Belarusian athletes - both men and women – received the permission for the participation in a neutral status at the European Olympic Canoeing Qualification scheduled for 8-9 May 2024 in Szeged, Hungary. These participants represent the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus respectively: Vladislav Kravets, Dmitry Natynchik, Vitaly Ershov, Maxim Spesivtsev, Anastasia Dolgova, Svetlana Chernigovskaya, Mikhail Pavlov, Veronika Lianyuk, and Maria Kavalenka,”the statement said.

With war between Russia and Ukraine now over two years and casualties mounting, Kiev argues that the participation of both countries in team competitions is prohibited by the IOC, as in other sports. But a year ago, the board of the International Canoe Federation (ICF) decided to readmit Russian and Belarusian athletes "who do not support the actions of their country in Ukraine" as neutral individuals. The world federation referred to its rules and regulations in regards to the competition that is due to be held this week in Hungary and is set to determine qualification for the upcoming Olympic Games.

Ukraine blames Russia and Belarus, who has aided the invasion, for breaking the Olympic truce at the start of the war and had called for both countries to be banned from the Olympics altogether. Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, Ukrainian athletes have repeatedly faced Russian and Belarusian opponents in competitions in sports such as tennis. In most cases, Ukrainian athletes have refused to greet their opponents at the end of the match.

Back in 2023, the ICF set up an independent committee to review all applications from Russian and Belarusian athletes who wished to compete under neutral status. However, the ban on all Russian and Belarusian officials remains in place. The IOC decided last December to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games to compete as neutrals, although clarified in March that they would not be allowed to parade during the opening ceremony on July 26 in the French capital.

Regarding canoeing, the world federation considers the Ukrainians' protest to be unfounded. "We define teams differently in our rules and regulations. The single, double and quad crews are crew boats and not teams, such as in canoe polo or team competitions in canoe slalom," ICF President Thomas Konietzko told the German press agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur. He also emphasised that the Russians and Belarusians "have all been checked by the independent commission. Some did not pass the check."

On Thursday, the UOC had asked their Olympic representatives and other members of the Ukrainian delegation in Paris 2024 to avoid, as far as possible, any direct contact with athletes from Russia and Belarus, which are supporting Russian forces in their invasion of Ukraine. The recommendations also include not taking part in press conferences or interviews with athletes from both countries, and avoiding being photographed together at medal ceremonies.

In addition, Ukrainian athletes were advised to refrain from interacting with said opponents on social media, as a further measure to avoid any contact that could lead to controversy or conflict. Ukrainians are also encouraged to report violations of the principle of neutrality by Russians and Belarusians.