Russian champion denounces Bach and shows sympathy for Ukrainians

Olympic high jump champion Maria Lasitskene, likely to be banned from defending her three consecutive world titles next month, slammed IOC and World Athletics leaders and expressed sympathy for her Ukrainian competitors in a heartfelt open letter distributed Thursday.

Lasitskene will likely be sidelined from the world championships in Eugene, Ore., due to a World Athletics decision to ban all Russians following the country’s war with Ukraine.

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The 29-year-old, who has never lost a major international competition, has been among the few Russians allowed to compete in international events in recent years despite the country’s athletics federation being suspended over the doping scandal for a long time in this 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 that 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 to protect them from possible backlash at world events. She argued that keeping Russians out of sport did not stop the war, “but on the contrary, it gave birth to a new one, around and inside sport, which is impossible to contain”.

“I have no doubt that you lack the courage and dignity to lift the sanctions against Russian athletes,” she wrote. “Because in this scenario, you would have to admit that during all these months you have violated the IOC Charter and the statutes of international sports federations have gone from strict documents to worthless documents.”

Lasitskene, whose main competitors in the high jump over the past five years have been high jumpers from Ukraine, wrote: “I still don’t know what to say to them or how to look them in the eye.

“They and their friends and relatives are going through what no human being should ever feel,” she said. “I’m sure none of this (ever) should have happened. And no argument can convince me to change my mind.

At IOC meetings last month, Bach said the committee would monitor the situation but had not yet made a decision on Russia’s participation in the Paris Olympics in 2024.

“The dilemma we face right now,” Bach said last month, “we cannot fully fulfill our mission to unite the whole world in peaceful competition.”

Lasitskene suggested it might be time to stop identifying athletes by their country; the peaceful coming together of nations is at the heart of the Olympic movement.

“Fans fall in love with athletes not because of their nationality or citizenship, but because of what they show during competitions,” she wrote.

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