Lord Coe says Ukraine trip reaffirmed his Russian and Belarusian athletes stance

World Athletics president Lord Coe revealed a trip to Ukraine reaffirmed his stance that the governing body remains right to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from its competitions.

Coe, who also met with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, praised the resilience of athletes he met at the country’s national championships, which also served as trials for this summer’s Paris Olympics.

The door to Olympic track and field remains firmly shut to Russian and Belarusian athletes as a result of World Athletics’ blanket order, introduced in 2022, in response to the countries’ involvement in the war in Ukraine, while other federations have allowed athletes to participate in qualifying and other events.

The International Olympic Committee will permit the inclusion of “individual neutral athletes” – vetted by a panel – whose restrictions will include competing under a neutral flag and anthem, and neither athletes nor coaches who “actively support” the war will be approved.

Lord Coe said of World Athletics’ stricter stance: “Let me be clear. This isn’t one individual view, this is the unanimous view of the 26-strong global world council, which is also the only global sporting council that is gender-balanced, and I make that point because I think it is actually salient to the decisions we have made.

“But that is absolutely where it sits. I’m hoping that circumstances may prevail in the coming years, we have a working group that will review this all the time, but this is where we sit and nothing I witnessed tells me that the decision we’ve taken isn’t the right decision on behalf of our sport.”

Lord Coe predicts Ukraine will send a severely diminished athletics team of about 30 to Paris in comparison to three years ago at the Tokyo Olympics, less than half the number he might have expected before the war, while over 400 athletes and coaches across Ukrainian sport have died.

More than 500 sports facilities in the country have been damaged or destroyed since Russia’s February 2022 invasion, with both the logistical and psychological impact of the war on athletes deeply felt.

Lord Coe said: “I’ve never been one who says politics and sport shouldn’t ever sit together. Of course they do.

“I think party politics and sport doesn’t have any place and the narrow self-interest that sometimes surfaces in politics, but politics at a global level and a domestic level, at a regional level, at a village level is there.

“You couldn’t be hermetically sealed chatting to an athlete who hasn’t got a coach at the moment because they’re on the front line. Female athletes are worried about their brothers and husbands.

“They have assiduously made our championships, when I’m talking about a fairly complicated journey, but they’re making this journey many times a year, and sometimes during the course of the week just to be able to get to the facilities they’re able to train in.

“The overwhelming emotion that I was left with was the depth of resilience the athletes are showing. They’re going, ‘We are going to come through this’.”

In 2022, World Athletics – together with the International Athletics Foundation (IAF) and members of the Diamond League Association – set up the Ukraine Fund to provide support to professional athletes affected by the conflict in their home country.

The fund was renewed in 2023, and was instrumental in helping Ukraine send 29 athletes to the World Athletics Championships in Budapest.

Coe, who met with Zelensky in Kyiv on Friday, told the president World Athletics would continue to provide support through the fund, and by lobbying of international organisations and national governments for the reconstruction of sports facilities in Ukraine.

Coe, who insisted “very little” of his conversation with the president “had a political tinge”, also extended a personal invitation to Zelensky to join him when athletics takes centre stage at the Stade de France beginning on August 1.