Ahead of the meeting, football and basketball players, together with members of the “What? Where? When?” intellectual game show held a rally at the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland
23 October 2020 | Belarus Sport Solidarity Foundation
Belarusian-Swiss RAZAM.CH association representatives in Lausanne held a solidarity rally at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters to support repressed Belarusian athletes. Belarusian community representatives, including local football and basketball players, their fans, and members of the “What? Where? When?” intellectual game show participated in the rally named “Do not play with dictators!”
The rally participants carried photos of the many top-tier athletes who have suffered at the hands of the Lukashenkо regime in recent months. Yelena Leuchanka, the 2010 best center, a two-time champion of the Russian Federation, a champion of Lithuania and Poland, and a WNBA finalist. Leuchanka was jailed for 15 days for having taken part in the protest rally in Minsk. Pavel Sitenkov, a Master of Sports (in Belarus, athletes earn titles based on skill and seniority – Masters are top-tier professionals) in swimming, was beaten by the OMON riot police and four of his cervical vertebrae were fractured as a result. Nikolay Kozeko, the national freestyle team head coach, who has trained four Olympic champions, was stripped of his funding grant for expressing his political views. Svetlana Kudelevich, a European Athletics Championships silver medalist, who was expelled from the national team and fired from the Ministry of Emergency Situations once she, together with other athletes, signed an open letter supporting those who were prosecuted for their political views.
After the rally, the Belarusian community representatives were invited by the IOC officials to discuss the current situation in the Republic of Belarus and the cases of the athletes being repressed and prosecuted. The Belarusian representatives hand delivered a prepared open letter signed by the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, which is headed by three-time Olympic medalist Aliaksandra Herasimenia.
The IOC letter references the cases of 900 Belarusian athletes who, in the aftermath of brutal police crackdowns at the peaceful protesters, publicly called for a stop to the violence and prosecution of the Belarusian sport community. The Belarusian sport authorities responded by ordering these athletes to recall their support. When athletes refused en masse, an avalanche of political repressions, unfair job dismissals, withdrawals of funds, and expulsion from training programs followed. The National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Belarus, presided by Aleksandеr Lukashenko himself, has done literally nothing to protect the athletes against violence and political discrimination.
On the date the IOC was appealed to, 15 Belarusian athletes have served prison sentences, four are still behind bars, and more than 20 have been deprived of the opportunity to train in Belarus. They all have been prosecuted for participating in peaceful protests.
We greatly appreciated the statement issued by the IOC on October 7th, which expressed strong concern over the complaints from Belarusian athletes and any alleged undue politically motivated pressure exerted by Belarusian sports officials. This statement has shown the readiness of the IOC to stand for the values of the Olympic Charter and has been a great encouragement to the Belarusian athletes. However, this statement has been ignored by the Belarusian authorities, and the repressions against Belarusian sports community have continued to escalate. The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation and RAZAM.CH association are seeking urgent IOC action to tackle the issue.
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation representatives and activists call on the IOC to
- speed up the investigation into the cases of discrimination and violence against the Belarusian athletes;
- suspend any activities and financial support of the National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Belarus as long as the Olympic Charter violations and politically motivated pressure persist;
- aid the Belarusian athletes who were deprived of the opportunity to train in their country, were unfairly excluded from taking part in sporting events, or who were forced to flee the country;
- postpone or relocate all sporting events in Belarus on the grounds of hostility and violence against the athletes, which is totally inconsistent with the free spirit of fair play and honest competition.
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) is looking forward to cooperating and is eager to promptly clarify any issue as needed.
Eugene Medvedev, BSSF official representative: