Ukrainians protesters walk past the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne. GETTY IMAGES

In an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Matwij Bidny again made clear his country’s stance on Russians being allowed to compete at the upcoming Paris Olympics, with an emphatic “no” and also looked ahead to the upcoming Euro 2024 football tournament in Germany.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the International Olympic Committee approved restrictions that prevent Russian and Belarusian athletes competing unless they do so as neutrals and definitely from taking part in the parade at the Opening Ceremony scheduled for 26 July. The national anthems of Russia and Belarus, who has provided support for its close ally, will also not be played at Paris 2024. 

In case they did not support the invasion of Ukraine, athletes competing under a neutral flag will be obliged to take part in the parade, a decision that Ukrainian authorities profoundly disagree with to the day.

“Our position remains unchanged: We are of the opinion that there are no neutral athletes," Bidny said in his interview with DW. "We think that all athletes who do not support Russian aggression should change their nationality. This is now possible. But Russian and Belarusian athletes under a neutral flag is not a good decision."

Recently, Ukraine has in fact advised its athletes not to have any contact with the Russians and Belarusians who will compete at the Paris 2024 Olympics. Some are even pondering boycotting competitions with Russian participants, a move the sports minister stopped short of criticising. “I think it should be the decision of our athletes, because many of them are now in a very difficult situation. 

"They have to think about how they can go into a sports arena together with people who support the killing of their loved ones. Sportsmen and sportswomen who may have a direct line to the people who press the button for the rockets that kill our peaceful fellow citizens,” Bidny underlined."

The minister insisted on the fact that here is a special procedure for athletes to be accepted as neutral or not, and reminded of the risk that the Games might be used as medium for spreading certain political messages. “These criteria of neutrality should be met. It is very important that none of the Russian regime's propagandists are admitted to the Olympic Games and accepted there,” he stated.

Ukraine will take part in the European Championships to be hosted by Germany in June, while Russia was excluded beforehand; and security measures will be tighter for Ukrainian representatives than other competitors. The former body builder said he was worried about his footballers’ well-being, to a certain extent.

“It is another sign of Ukrainian resilience. Even in this environment and this difficult situation, our athletes are still winners. They are drawing the attention of the whole world to what is happening in Ukraine today," Bidny continued. "It is very important for us to show that Ukraine is still part of the European family - a big, powerful country with a great and bright future. 

"Of course we always worry about our athletes, because the situation is very difficult. We think about the situation at the Olympic Games and at Euro 2024. But we believe in our colleagues in France and Germany. Major sporting events are always a challenge. We are convinced that they will be able to provide sufficient security,” he concluded.