Ukraine withdraws from Judo worlds

Ukraine on Monday pulled its team from the World Judo Championships in Qatar over the presence of Russian athletes it argued were active soldiers.

The International Judo Federation (IJF) gave judokas from Russia and Belarus the green light to compete at the May 7-14 championships in Doha on the proviso they do so as individual neutral athletes.

But the Ukrainian judo federation said in a statement that "the majority of the (Russian) team are athletes who are active servicemen of the armed forces of the Russian Federation, part of the army that attacked Ukraine on February 24, 2022".

A Russian army, the federation said, that "is still waging a brutal full-scale war on our territory, shelling Ukrainian cities, civilian homes every day, killing civilians and children".

"Instead, more than 250 Ukrainian athletes have given their lives defending the country. Among them are representatives of judo."

The federation added: "We do not see here neutrality, equal conditions and a 'bridge to peace' as stated in the IJF Resolution on the participation of Russian and Belarusian teams in the World Championships in Doha.

"Moreover, we see here a decision that contradicts the latest recommendations of the International Olympic Committee of March 28, 2023, where the IOC says that the status of neutral athletes can only be granted to those athletes who are not military personnel."

Ukrainian judoka Daria Bilodid, 2019 world women's 48kg champion and Olympic bronze medallist in Tokyo, called the IJF's decision to allow Russian competitors in Doha "unacceptable".

"All those people who will perform at the World Cup are military personnel. That's nonsense, isn't it?" Bilodid asked in an Instagram post.

"I think it is unacceptable to allow military personnel of a terrorist country who every day kill Ukrainians to participate in international competitions."

IOC president Thomas Bach said last month that Russians and Belarusians banned from international competition would include "athletes who actively support the war" as well as "athletes who are contracted to the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies".

Among the Russian judokas listed for the world championships, Inal Tasoev won a title at the World Military Championships in Paris in 2021. At that same event, Mikhail Igolnikov, who is also competing in Doha, finished third in the under-90kg category.

The IJF did not respond to AFP's enquiry about the affiliation of the Russian competitors.

Athletes from Russia and Moscow ally Belarus have faced sanctions from a multitude of sports since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.

As Moscow's assault on Ukraine stretches into a second year, the IOC recommended allowing athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete as individual neutrals in upcoming international competitions.

The IOC says however it is yet to make a decision on whether Russians can take part at the Paris Olympics next year.

The announcement, made late last month, angered Ukrainian authorities, who have accused the IOC of promoting war.

But Moscow has condemned what it says is "discrimination on the basis of nationality" and says all athletes must be allowed to compete.

The standoff between Kyiv and the IOC points to the widening fallout of the conflict and how sports bodies are facing pressure to appease both Moscow and Kyiv or find a fine line of neutrality.

Russian missile attacks across Ukraine early Monday wounded 34 people, including children, in the central Dnipropetrovsk region, regional authorities said.

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