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World Athletics trying to ‘remain politically neutral’ during conflicts, says Sebastian Coe


By Amanda Davies, Aleks Klosok and George Ramsay, CNN

(CNN) — World Athletics president Sebastian Coe says that his organization is trying to “remain politically neutral” where possible when handling the impact of global conflicts and geopolitics on the sport.

Athletes from Russia and Belarus have been excluded from events staged by World Athletics, the global governing body for track and field, since March 2022, and calls have been growing for similar sporting sanctions to be placed on Israeli athletes amid the war on Hamas in Gaza.

However, Coe said that he sees Russia’s war in Ukraine as a “very different situation” to the Israel-Gaza conflict, explaining that “you do have to deal with what is in front of you.”

Speaking to CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies ahead of the World Indoor Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, Coe said: “We’re not the United Nations. We’re not a political body. We’re an international federation for sport.

“My responsibility is to make sure our sport remains global, that where we possibly can – it is not always possible, but where we possibly can – we remain politically neutral.

“But then we do take stands – we’ve taken a stand over Russia and Belarus … We recognize that whenever you make a judgment politically, you are setting a precedent, but I do think you have to deal with those issues as they arise.”

Coe, a 1,500-meter gold medalist at the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games, is a former Conservative member of Parliament in the UK who then went on to sit in the House of Lords, retiring from the upper house of Parliament on January 31, 2022.

According to the health ministry in Gaza, more than 30,200 people in the enclave have been killed since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October.

Against the backdrop of a growing death toll, sporting bodies and lawmakers have called for sanctions to be placed on Israeli athletes.

Last month, 26 French lawmakers called for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to impose the same sanctions on Israeli athletes as it has on those from Russia and Belarus.

An IOC spokesperson told CNN Sport that it “continues to monitor the current situation and the impact it has on Israeli and Palestinian athletes,” adding that it is “in contact with both NOCs in order to support their athletes as much as we are able to under the current situation.”

Prior to that, 12 Middle East football associations asked FIFA to impose a ban on Israel’s national soccer team, urging the governing body to take “a decisive stand against the atrocities committed in Palestine and the war crimes in Gaza.”

CNN has contacted Israel’s National Olympic Committee and previously FIFA for a response.

“You do have to deal with what is in front of you,” Coe said about World Athletics’ stance on Israeli participation at track and field events. “And at this moment, it’s for other organizations to make some judgments.

“We will look at this, as we always do across the sports and across a raft of issues, and that will be for the future. But at the moment, the most important thing we can do is to make sure, where possible, the sport is maintained under intolerably difficult circumstances.”

World Athletics’ current ban means Russian and Belarusian track and field athletes will not be able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Paris, as the IOC has said that individual sporting federations have the first say on whether athletes from these countries can even attempt to qualify for the Games.

The stance has been welcomed by Ukrainian athletes, who argue that Russian participation in sporting events only strengthens the country’s “propaganda machine.”

However, the IOC has cleared the way for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at this year’s Games, provided they compete as neutral athletes and meet certain eligibility requirements.

Asked about whether World Athletics’ ban on Russians and Belarusians will be revised, Coe said: “We do actually have a small working group that will look at the circumstances that might pertain for us to remove that exclusion.

“At this moment, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of difference. The issue around the integrity of competition hasn’t altered. In fact, if anything, it’s got worse. So we’re not closing the door. We never do that. It’s important that you monitor.”

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