Ukraine is set to boycott the world judo championships next week after the International Judo Federation signaled it will allow Russian and Belarusian competitors to enter the event, a key Olympic qualifier.
Ukraine has a policy of boycotting any international sports events that allow athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne reported Sunday that a boycott was planned, citing national team judo coach Vitaliy Dubrova, though he added lobbying efforts would also continue.
The IJF said Saturday that it plans to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes without national symbols. They would undergo background checks, including an examination of their social media for “war propaganda,” the IJF said.
“With the World Championships – Doha 2023 being held from 7th to 14th May, with significant points to be awarded, this decision allows the possibility for fair participation and equal chances to all judo athletes who are pursuing their Olympic dreams,” the IJF added.
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.
The International Olympic Committee recommends allowing Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutrals in events like Olympic qualifiers, but it has urged sports bodies to exclude any athletes and coaches employed by the military or security forces. The IJF statement made no mention of that. The IJF did not immediately respond to a question about whether it was following the IOC position on military competitors, or how background checks would be completed in time for the world championships.
“I think that it is unacceptable to allow military personnel of a terrorist country who every day kill Ukrainians to participate in international competitions,” Daria Bilodid, a two-time world champion from Ukraine who is one of judo’s biggest names, wrote on Instagram.
The Ukrainian team already boycotted an Olympic judo qualifier in Mongolia in June 2022 after the IJF allowed Russians to compete as neutrals. Following that, the IJF reversed course and excluded Russia and Belarus until the end of 2022. They had not entered any IJF competitions since.
The Ukrainian government also requires national sports teams to boycott international competitions where they would compete against Russians and Belarusians.
Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin called the proposed neutral status for Russian athletes “discrimination” in comments to Russian news agency Tass on Saturday. He did not confirm whether Russia would compete under those conditions, as the judo team did last year.
Judo is a favorite sport of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was the IJF “honorary president and ambassador” until the IJF said that status was suspended last year.
Another Olympic sport is set to readmit some Russians and Belarusians. The International Canoe Federation said Saturday it would allow competitors unaffiliated with the military who have not publicly supported the war.
However, the ICF also signaled the local organizers of upcoming competitions would be able to veto their participation.
“In order to protect the implementation of ICF events and the safety of athletes the ICF will respect any position and decision of a National Canoe Federation as host of an ICF event not to include Individual Neutral Athletes,” the ICF said in a statement.