World Friendship Games 2024 mascot Tiger. VK/WFG2024

Ukraine's acting sports minister Matviy Bidnyi says Russia has shown it "disregards the principles of Olympism" by organising the Friendship Games for September. He added that Russia is "merely attempting to use sport for its propaganda".

In an email exchange with AFP, Bidnyi said that he viewed the Friendship Games - scheduled for 15-29 September - as an example of Russia and its president Vladimir Putin trying to "utterly destroy order even in sports".

"After Russia, at the state level, decided to fund the so-called Friendship Games and established the so-called 'International Association of Friendship' to organise these Games, it proved to the entire world it disregards the principles of Olympism," he insisted. "It is merely attempting to use sport for its propaganda, to cloak its aggressive war with a facade of sports PR."

Ukraine acting sports minister Matviy Bidnyi with European Commissioner Iliana Ivanova. X/@Ili_Ivanova
Ukraine acting sports minister Matviy Bidnyi with European Commissioner Iliana Ivanova. X/@Ili_Ivanova

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) ruled in March that Russian athletes will only be permitted to compete at the Paris 2024 Olympics as Individual Neutral Athletes if they are able to satisfy certain criteria including not expressing support for the war in Ukraine. The Friendship Games, previously held in 1984 following the boycott of the Los Angeles Games by Eastern Bloc nations, have been revived to offer barred athletes the chance to compete in a global multi-sports event.

Bidnyi does not believe the Friendship Games will achieve the desired propaganda for Putin who, he says, showed his disdain for the IOC and the Olympic movement with state-sponsored doping at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

"There is no alternative to the Olympic Games. That is why most countries, including Brazil, India, and China have refused to attend these fake Olympics, and the IOC has condemned the attempt to hold such competitions," he said.

"Only under Putin has Russia violated the Olympic truce three times - in 2008 by attacking Georgia, in 2014 by invading Ukrainian Crimea, and in 2022 by starting a full-scale aggression. In November 2023, only Russia and Syria were the sole nations that did not support the UN resolution on the Olympic truce."

War rages on in Ukraine after more than two years with Bidnyi at pains to emphasise how much the conflict affects athletes in their day-to-day lives and their preparations for Paris, telling the story of young judoka Anastasiia Chyzhevska, who was born in Lugansk.

"When Russia attacked Ukraine in 2014, her family moved to Irpin near Kyiv," he recounted. "Eight years later, the Russian war caught up with her, and Anastasiia had to secretly escape from the occupation. Her father died in this war. There are countless such stories."

Three years ago, at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Games, Ukraine won 19 medals with Greco-Roman wrestler Zhan Beleniuk claiming the nation's only gold in Japan. Bidnyi appears unburdened by medal expectations for the team this time round, stating, "Each of them is already a winner. They exhibit an unshakeable will to the entire world."