Olympic champion high jumper Maria Lasitskene, likely to be banned from defending her three straight world titles next month, lashed out at the leaders of the IOC and World Athletics, and expressed sympathy for her Ukrainian competitors in a heartfelt open letter distributed Thursday.
Lasitskene will likely be kept out of the world championships in Eugene, Oregon, because of a World Athletics decision to bar all Russians in wake of the country’s war against Ukraine.
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The 29-year-old, who has never lost a major international competition, has been among the few Russians allowed in international events in recent years despite the suspension of the country’s athletics federation due to the long-running doping scandal in that country.
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This year, however, World Athletics plans to ban all Russians, barring a late and unexpected end to the war in Ukraine. Shortly after the start of the war, the IOC recommended international sports federations ban Russian and Belarusian athletes.
Lasitskene’s open letter to IOC President Thomas Bach criticizes his recommendation to ban Russian athletes as a way of protecting them from possible backlash at worldwide events. She argued that keeping Russians out of sports did not stop the war, “but on the contrary, it gave birth to a new one, around and inside the sports, which is impossible to contain.”
“I have no doubts that you don’t have the courage and dignity to lift the sanctions against Russian athletes,” she wrote. “Because in this scenario you would have to admit that all these months the IOC Charter was violated by you, and the statutes of international sports federations was turned from strict documents into worthless papers.”
Lasitskene, whose main competitors in high jump over the past five years have been jumpers from Ukraine, wrote, “I still don’t know what to say them or how to look into their eyes.”
“They and their friends and relatives are experiencing what no one human being should ever have to feel,” she said. “I am sure that nothing of this (ever) should have happened. And any arguments can’t convince me to change this opinion.”
Last month at IOC meetings, Bach said the committee will monitor the situation but has yet to make a decision about Russian participation in the Paris Olympics in 2024.
”The dilemma that we are facing at this moment in time,” Bach said last month, is “we cannot fully live up to our mission to unite the entire world in peaceful competition.”
Lasitskene suggested it might be time to stop identifying athletes by their country; the peaceful gathering of nations is the core of the Olympic movement.
“Fans fall in love with athletes not because of their nationality or citizenship, but because of what those show at competitions,” she wrote.