IOC president promises Zelenskyy more funding for athletes in Ukraine

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach shakes hands with Ukrainian Olympic athletes in Kyiv on Sunday. Bach visited the war-torn country at the invitation of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine, before meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach shakes hands with Ukrainian Olympic athletes in Kyiv on Sunday. Bach visited the war-torn country at the invitation of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine, before meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. (International Olympic Committee)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

KYIV — After meetings in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and athletes hoping to compete in the upcoming Olympics despite Russia's invasion of their country, the head of the International Olympic Committee pledged more financial aid and even encouraged a future Winter Games bid.

The IOC fund set up shortly after the start of the war in February to help Ukrainian athletes train at home and abroad is being tripled to $7.5 million, IOC President Thomas Bach said Sunday at a news conference, so "the Ukrainian flag will fly high," at the 2024 Summer Games in Paris and the 2026 Winter Games in Cortina-Milano.

During his brief visit to the Ukrainian capital, Bach toured a basketball hall damaged during a missile strike on the city before hearing about the difficulties of training and competing from a group of athletes at the Olympic Training Centre.

Bach told the athletes the Switzerland-based IOC wants "to make your Olympic dreams come true," according to an IOC news release that said he made the trip at the request of Ukraine's National Olympic Committee and spent an hour with Zelenskyy.

"We want to show the solidarity of the Olympic movement with our friends here in the Ukrainian Olympic community because we know that you are living very difficult moments, and we want not only to tell you, we want to show you, we want to reassure you that you are never alone with the Olympic community." he said.

Russia's invasion has "brutally affected" sports in Ukraine, a news release from Zelenskyy's office said, destroying hundreds of Ukrainian sports facilities and resulting in the deaths of 89 athletes and coaches in the fighting as well as the capture of 13 who remain in Russian captivity.

Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude to Bach for continuing to back banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions, saying "it cannot be allowed that a terrorist state uses sports to promote its political interests and propaganda."

The Ukrainian leader also brought up his interest in hosting a Winter Games. Just over a year before Russia attacked Ukraine, Zelenskyy started readying a bid for a Winter Games as soon as 2030 that was intended to help transform the country's mountains into the "Alps of Eastern Europe."

At the time, there were four other cities vying for the 2030 Winter Games that had already hosted an Olympics — Salt Lake City; Sapporo, Japan; Vancouver, Canada; and Barcelona, Spain, along with the Pyrenees mountain region.

Now, Barcelona has dropped out of the running for 2030 and Salt Lake City is seen as a more likely candidate for 2034, especially after Bach made it clear the IOC was not happy with U.S. efforts to punish the 2022 Winter Games host, Beijing, because of China's human rights record.

The IOC Executive Committee is expected to name a city — or possibly cities — in early December to begin negotiations for hosting the 2030 Winter Games. Under a new, less formal bid process, a pick could be made for the 2034 Winter Games at the same time.

Zelenskyy was upbeat about Ukraine's future in sports, including someday hosting an Olympics.

"I have no doubt that after our victory we will be able to provide all necessary conditions for holding international sports events at the highest level in Ukraine. Our athletes, our country, have already made a significant contribution to the development of the Olympic movement," he said.

"But our opportunities are much greater, and we will certainly implement them," Zelenskyy said.

Bach, according to the news release from the Ukrainian president's office, "noted that the IOC is impressed by the intentions of our country to host the Winter Olympic Games. He assured that the door remains open for Ukraine in this matter, and it can conduct consultations with the relevant commissions."

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Lisa Riley Roche

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