EOK chief: Paris Olympics boycott would unfairly harm Estonian athletes

Olympic games ceremony (photo is illustrative).
Olympic games ceremony (photo is illustrative). Source: Greg Martin/IOC

A boycott of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, and the games in general, would be a final option for Estonia, and is not desirable as it would unfairly punish the country's athletes, the head of the Estonian Olympic Committee (EOK) says.

The EOK's position is that Estonia will not be boycotting the olympics, Urmas Sõõrumaa, the organization's director, says, following news that Latvia would not be taking part, if the current situation in Ukraine remains and if Russian and Belarusian athletes take part, under any flag.

The boycott follows not only Russia's invasion of Ukraine, nearly a year old in its current phase, but also the fact that many Russian athletes are also serving military personnel at a time when large scale atrocities in Ukraine have been widely reported in the international media.

These athletes reportedly get military decorations, in addition to olympic medals, should they win any.

Speaking to ETV politics show "Esimene stuudio", Sõõrumaa said: "Boycotts have never really led to anything. We tend to fantasize that it could transpire that some Russian athletes, under a neutral flag, are in fact engaging in some sort of false flag operation. Let this be a warning for these games."

Urmas Sõõrumaa. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

"Let's not forget that practically the majority of Russian athletes who will make it to the podium are military, athletes and get a [military] medal when they win. This is an absurd situation. It is preferable that many of them, instead, would not take part."

The longer-term perspective and pre-2022 support for the current regime in Russia also needs to be borne in mind, he said.

Former star athlete Gerd Kanter, who won gold in the discus for Estonia in Beijing in 2008, told ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade" meanwhile that a boycott would represent a major blow to any athlete's career, while the decision whether to compete or not should be down to that individual athlete's conscience.

"You shouldn't rush things," Kanter, who now coaches current world athletics discus champion Kristjan Čeh (Slovenia) said.

Gerd Kanter on 'Ringvaade', January 31, 2023. Source: ERR

"Initially, different ideas of a boycott have come out, but if we think more broadly, the 2020 [Tokyo] games were postponed due to the Covid pandemic; now, the topic is war."

"Four years is a very long time for an athlete. If someone is at their peak, but should then have to stay away from the games, then this would be a major blow to their career," he went on.

"I would not make this decision for the athletes. Every athlete should be able to decide for themselves. It is clear that the whole process is very complicated and there are no ideal solutions, but at the moment, the ball is more in the international [olympic] federation's hands."

The 2008 olympics were also preceded by rumors of impending boycotts over human rights allegations and other issues.

Urmas Sõõrumaa meanwhile noted that in any case, even with Russian athletes taking part under a neutral flag, some provocation is likely and the competitors would be used by the Putin regime for propaganda purposes, presumably if successful.

If individual atheltes opt not to take part in Paris or other games, they are welcome to do so, Sõõrumaa added.

The EOK's secretary general, Siim Sukles, said that Russian athletes should not be taking part in the olympics at all.

Also appearing on "Ringvaade", Sukles said:  "One aspect is how our athletes would feel if they have to shake hands [with Russian athletes] or applaud them; also think about how the spectators might feel when an athlete representing the Russian Federation enters the arena, but when we still know that he isthey are still actually on the payroll of the Russian military."

Siim Sukles Source: ERR

Urmas Sõõrumaa did also state that he found the standpoint of International Olympic Committee (IOC) chair Thomas Bach, a German, former gold medalist in fencing, hard to understand, adding that the cause could range from a desire to be a conciliator, or to people-please, or "some distant, larger position", while noting that Bach's term ends in 2025.

Bach turned a blind eye to Russian doping allegations at the 2014 and 2018 winter olympics, and faced a backlash over calls to not punish Russian and Belarusian athletes solely on the basis of their governments' actions.

Ahead of the Paris Olympics in 2024, Russian competitors also have to pass qualifying rounds held by olympic sub-committees, most of which, with some exceptions, do not follow a pro-Russian line, Sõõrumaa went on.

Sõõrumaa pointed out that, in the eyes of the Baltic States, the Nordic countries and some others, the IOC has taken more of a line similar to that it took with the war in Syria, namely that it was something unfortunate and that lives were being lost, but not more than that.

Gerd Kanter also recalled the boycotts, which never materialized, ahead of Beijing in 2008, and said that the political aspects are for the politicians to work through, given we have more than a year to go until the Paris games.

Ultimately French President Emmanuel Macron needs to do what he must to make sure the games go ahead without a mass boycott by European nations in particular, Urmas Sõõrumaa said.

So far, Latvia, Finland and Denmark have been talking about possible non-attendance in Paris.

Another dimension is doping cases relating to Russian and Belarusian athletes – which, Sõõrumaa said, was so widespread that proper checking would either not be possible or would lead to fiasco.

The president of the Latvian Olympic Committee Žoržs Tikmers has already confirmed his organization's line, namely that in the current situation, when Russia continues tis military activities in Ukraine, Latvia does not consider taking part in Paris a viable option, if Russian and Belarusian athletes are also competing.

Following a large-scale sports doping scandal, Russia had already competed under a "neutral" Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) flag at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (held in 2021), and finished fifth overall.

The Paris Summer Olympics are to be held July 26 to August 11, 2024. The next Winter Olympics take place in Italy in 2026.

Urmas Sõõrumaa had appeared on "Esimene stuudio" Tuesday; Siim Sukles and Gerd Kanter on "Ringvaade".


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja, Anders Nõmm.

Source: "Ringvaade" (host: Grete Lõbu); "Esimene stuudio" (host: Andres Kuusk),

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