ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia -- Ukraine has begun a boycott of international judo events because the Russian team was allowed to compete as Olympic qualification began Friday.
Judo is one of the few Olympic sports in which Russians can still compete, though they must do so without their flag and are officially representing the International Judo Federation. That goes against the wishes of the International Olympic Committee, which recommends excluding athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Until this week, Russia stayed away from international judo events, citing what the IJF termed "logistics and safety" concerns, but it entered 24 athletes in the Grand Slam tournament in Mongolia that started Friday. That is the first competition to count toward qualification for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Ukraine is staying away in protest.
"Everybody who follows world sport a small way understands that Russian athletes are a key part of this country's aggressive propaganda politics," Ukrainian Judo Federation president Mykhailo Koshliak wrote in an open letter dated Thursday. "Speaking of Russia and sport, it is by no means possible to say that 'sport is out of politics.' The silence of Russian and Belarusian athletes and coaches supports the war against Ukraine and kills thousands of Ukrainian citizens."
Koshliak alleged that 11 members of the Russian team competing in Mongolia were "active representatives of the Russian Armed Forces" and held military ranks. They include Madina Taimazova, who was congratulated by the Russian Defense Ministry in a statement after she won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year, with her rank listed as that of warrant officer.
The IJF has argued it is preventing discrimination by allowing the Russians to continue competing and said Thursday it would punish any athlete who displays "political vindication or unsportsmanlike attitude."
"The International Judo Federation is against war, against any kind of violence, as well as hate and discrimination," IJF general director Vlad Marinescu said in a statement. "Sport is not politics, sport is a bridge between different cultures. Our values are the values of sport, where there is no room for politics."