only Ukrainian gold medalist in Tokyo, Beleniouk hopes for Games without Russian athletes

The only Ukrainian gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, elected to his country’s Parliament, wrestler Zhan Beleniouk believes that the new restrictions imposed on Russian athletes by the IOC will push athletes from this country to boycott the Paris Olympic Games.

Published on: 04/18/2024 – 10:20 Modified on: 04/18/2024 – 10:19

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« I read articles quoting Russian sports leaders, who said that they were considering boycotting this competition (the Olympics) because of the new conditions of the IOC », Explains Beleniouk from kyiv in an interview with AFP.

« For us, it is a very good thing that they cannot compete in this type of competition, with us other athletes against whom they are at war. », Analyzes the wrestler, born to a Ukrainian mother and a Rwandan father, the first mixed race to enter the Ukrainian Parliament in 2019, under the colors of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s party.

Individually, Russian and Belarusian athletes can participate under a neutral banner in the Games, on the conditions of not having openly supported the offensive launched in Ukraine by Russia in February 2022 or of being a member of a club linked to the forces of security.

Despite these strict constraints that only a few dozen athletes seem to be able to respect, Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin seemed to rule out the prospect of a boycott in mid-March.

But since then, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has also excluded Russians and Belarusians from the opening parade, arousing the ire of Moscow for whom the international body has descended into “racism and neo-Nazism”.

« Today we see that Russia does not agree with » this participation is subject to conditions, “ like us ». « So the next step for Russian sport is a boycott, and that’s a good thing », analyze Beleniouk, 33 ans.

Even before 2022, Zhan Beleniouk’s life had already been hit hard by the war: his father, Vincent Ndagijimana, was killed during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when he returned to his country.

« Much stronger »

The Russian invasion reminded him of his past nightmares, Beleniouk says. “ I thought about all that. To the reality of my life. My mother, my father, the war, remembering that we only have one life ».

« I grew up in Ukraine, so it’s a little difficult to understand this history, this genocide which left hundreds of thousands dead only 30 years ago “, he admits.

Beleniouk himself visited his father’s grave in Rwanda in 2017, a year after he had already won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics.

« My relatives in Rwanda had heard about a guy from Ukraine with Rwandan roots who had won a medal “, he remembers.

He even visited the president of the Rwandan Olympic committee and the Minister of Sports to show them his medal and “ that the country finally has one at the Olympic Games ».

Without drawing a parallel between the conflict currently ravaging his country and the genocide which left at least 800,000 dead in Rwanda, Zhan Beleniouk denounces “the acts of terror of the Russian army” in Ukraine.

« Even today, these terrible times continue for us, but we try to do our best to survive and maintain our state “, he says.

« Our athletes are much stronger than two years ago », he wants to believe. “ They grew up 10 years worrying about the safety of their loved ones, their own safety and their future. They have become adult athletes. »


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