Olympic high jump champion Maria Lasitskene has asked the head of the International Olympic Committee to lift sanctions against Russian athletes over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

In February, the IOC issued guidance to sports governing bodies to withdraw Russians and Belarusians from competitions after Russia sent troops to Ukraine. Most international federations followed the recommendation.

Lasitskene, who is also a three-time world champion, said in an open letter that her Russian passport was used as an asset by World Athletics, the sport’s governing body, at the request of IOC president Thomas Bach.

Bach was not interested in the opinions of Russian athletes

She attacked Bach for saying last month that the rights of those who do not support Russia’s war in Ukraine should be respected and that “there should be no penalty for holding a passport”.

“My main colleagues in the high jump sector are Ukrainian girls. And I still don’t know what to say to them or how to look into their eyes,” she wrote, quoted by Reuters.

“They, their friends and relatives are experiencing what no human being should ever experience. I’m sure none of this should have ever happened.”

She added that Bach was not interested in the views of Russian athletes on this conflict.

Last month, Bach described the sidelining of Russian and Belarusian athletes as “protective measures”, saying their safety at competitions could not be guaranteed given the “deep anti-Russian and anti-Belarusian sentiments in so many countries following the invasion”.

The IOC itself did not sanction the Russian Olympic Committee

Lasitskene – who herself was banned from international competition for years due to a suspension by the Russian athletics federation – said Bach’s concerns about athlete safety were not real, pointing to the case of tennis players who are still allowed to compete in the international circuit.

The IOC itself has not sanctioned the Russian Olympic Committee or banned its Russian members from attending its meetings, despite calls to do so.

Russian Olympic Committee President Stanislav Pozdnyakov said in separate comments that his main concerns were the “unprecedented restrictions” on the country’s athletes and the uncertainty surrounding qualification for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

Lasitskene won gold at last year’s Tokyo Olympics without the Russian flag and anthem, due to the country’s anti-doping sanctions.

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