Ahead of the upcoming Riigikogu elections, the Estonian Olympic Committee (EOK) held a debate on issues related to sports, with representatives of Estonia's political parties presenting their respective positions. However, the issue of Russian and Belarusian athletes' potential participation in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics and how Estonia should act if they are allowed to take part, was impossible to avoid.
Kristina Kallas (Eesti 200), Heino Märks (EKRE), Marko Kaljuveer (Isamaa), Mihhail Kõlvart (Center), Jüri Jaanson (Reform) and current Minister of Culture Piret Hartman (SDE) all took part in the debate.
In recent weeks, there has been a great deal of talk about the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) recent statement, that Russian and Belarusian athletes should gradually be allowed back to compete in international sporting events. Some have suggested that to do so, they would have to compete as 'neutral' athletes, unable to use their national flags or anthems.
On Monday, Estonian Minister of Culture Minister Piret Hartman (SDE) signed a joint statement by 34 national sports ministers and senior officials, stressing that there is no practical reason to consider allowing the full return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international sporting competition.
Urmas Vaino, who chaired the debate, asked all the participants for their views on the issue.
"I would very much like to hope that Russian and Belarusian athletes will not go to the Paris Olympics. Everything can still change. The mayor of Paris has already mentioned, that Russian and Belarusian athletes are not welcome," said Marko Kaljuveer (Isamaa),
"What are we supposed to do? In any case, a political party can't say [Estonia] won't go [to the Olympics], the EOK (Estonian Olympic Committee) will make that decision. No politician can decide that. However, we have to hope and work, first of all towards this war ending, and, secondly, so that the Russians and Belarusians will not go to the Olympics," he said.
"This situation must be prevented," said Heino Märks (EKRE)."If the IOC decides to admit Russia and Belarus to the Paris Olympics, a proposal must be made to the European Union to designate the IOC as an organization, which supports terrorism," he added.
"This is a much broader and more painful issue," Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) began. "Already today, our (Estonian) athletes are not allowed to participate in the World Championships, where Russian athletes will be able to participate. I am talking about boxing. These kinds of incidents can happen in other sports too. After all, this is what the financing of sports actually depends on. If there are no results from top competitions, then there are no coefficients and that is what the funding depends on."
"We have to be clear about whether we participate or not," Kõlvart continued. "My personal opinion, as an athlete and a coach, is that athletes should not be penalized. Sport is for athletes, not for politicians," he said.
"Sport and politics are very closely connected. In this war, absolutely all spheres are involved," said Minister of Culture Piret Hartman (SDE). "The EOK will make the decision (about whether Estonia participates) and I fully agree with that. How do we react? We already have reacted. I have done everything in cooperation with the other sports ministers to prevent athletes from Belarus and Russia from going to the Olympics. I believe, that for little Estonia, we have already done a great deal to this end."
However, if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to take part in the Olympics, who will decide whether Estonia participates or boycotts the games? "That's a decision for the EOK," Hartman replied.
Jüri Jaanson (Reform), himself a former rower, who has competed in six Olympics, winning two silver medals, said it was too early to discuss what Estonia should do if the IOC allows Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete. "This question is a little premature. I have had the honor of participating in the Olympics. Right now, the focus has to be on keeping aggressor countries and their minions out of the Olympics. The government, the Ministry of Culture and the EOK have been doing a good job and must continue to do so," said Jaanson.
"Another thing however is, that if it should ever come down to the athletes (to decide), the decision about how to act cannot be made without involving the Olympic team. The team needs to have its say and then we can work out how to move forward. Let's not do what Latvia did and simply present the facts to its athletes."
"I am more or less certain, that these athletes from the aggressor countries will not be allowed to go to the Olympics in any case," said Kristin Kallas (Eesti 200). "But if they are, who should make that decision (for the Estonian team)? Regardless, I think that, morally, it would not possible for Estonia to participate in the Olympics if athletes from the aggressor countries are taking part. Friends and lives are, at a certain point, more important than sport."
Editor: Michael Cole