International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said his organisation is not on the wrong side of history after opening the door for Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in next year’s Summer Games in Paris.

The IOC received a backlash after setting out a path last month for athletes of both countries to earn slots for the Olympics through Asian qualifying and to compete as neutrals, with no flags or anthems. Athletes from Russia and its neighbour Belarus have been banned from many international competitions in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

In a letter to Bach last week, Ukrainian athletes said the IOC was “on the wrong side of history” after Bach had urged Ukraine to drop threats of a boycott. When asked if the IOC was on the wrong side of history, Bach told reporters on Sunday: “No, history will show who is doing more for peace.

US backs Russians competing as neutrals in Olympics

The ones who try to keep lines open, to communicate, or the ones who want to isolate or divide. “We’re trying to find a solution that is giving justice to the mission of sport, which is to unify, not to contribute to more confrontation, more escalation.”

Lithuania’s sports minister said on Friday a group of 35 countries, including the United States, Germany and Australia, will demand Russian and Belarusian athletes are banned from the 2024 Olympics.

Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin was quoted as saying by TASS news agency that the calls were “absolutely unacceptable”.

Bach, speaking at the Alpine skiing world championships in Courchevel, France, said the IOC stood in “solidarity” with Ukraine’s athletes.

“With every Ukrainian athlete, we can from a human point of view understand their reactions, we share their suffering,” he said.

“Every Ukrainian athlete can be rest assured that we are standing in full solidarity with them and that all their comments are taken very, very seriously into consideration.”

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