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Ukraine boycotts judo worlds after Russians, Belarusians allowed as neutrals

Russia Judo

Ukraine’s Yakiv Khammo (white) and Russia’s Tamerlan Bashaev compete in the judo men’s +100kg bronze medal bout during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on July 30, 2021. (Photo by Franck FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine is reportedly boycotting next week’s world judo championships after Russians and Belarusians were allowed to participate as neutral athletes.

Ukraine’s national team head coach said Ukraine athletes will not participate, according to Ukraine public broadcaster Suspilne, after the International Judo Federation (IJF) announced Saturday that it would allow neutral athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete internationally. Saturday was the last day of registration for athletes for worlds, according to the coach.

The competition in Doha from May 7-14 would be the first world championships in an Olympic event to include athletes from Russia since the December 2021 World Badminton Championships. Most international sports federations banned Russian and Belarusian athletes after Russia invaded Ukraine, with Belarus as a staging ground, in February 2022.

The IJF said it is allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete “for fair participation and equal chances to all judo athletes who are pursuing their Olympic dreams” as the sport is in the middle of its two-year Olympic qualification window.

The IJF decision came one month after the IOC updated its recommendations to international sports federations, advising that Russians and Belarusians can return to competitions outside of the Olympics as neutral athletes in individual events and only if they do not actively support the war in Ukraine. Previously, the IOC did not recommend allowing Russians and Belarusians to compete in any capacity.

In making its decision, the IJF executive committee “decided to engage an independent, reputable company to perform background checks on all the individuals proposed for participation, including social media content, with specific reference to possible war propaganda,” according to the IJF’s Saturday announcement. “Only those athletes and support personnel who are cleared during this verification process will be eligible and considered for participation in events by the IJF Executive Committee.”

The Ukraine national team head coach disputed that, saying that Russians on the worlds entry list do not meet that criteria, according to Suspilne.

Twenty Russians and Belarusians were on the entry list as of Sunday, including five who were listed as part of the Central Sports Club of the Army in a statement on the Russian Defense Ministry website after they won medals at a competition last year. Four were listed as holding the rank of staff sergeant. Their current military status could not immediately be verified.

Last June, Ukraine boycotted a judo Grand Slam in Mongolia where Russians were allowed to compete as neutral athletes.

Russian and Belarusian athletes were later barred by the IJF last September through the end of 2022, including the October 2022 World Championships, “considering the current international circumstances and in order to ensure the protection of all athletes in the sport of judo.”

Russian and Belarusian athletes have not been on the entry lists for any of the judo Grand Slams in 2023.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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