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Latvia bans national sports teams from competing with Russian, Belarusian teams

“The main objective of the amendments to the law is to reiterate Latvia’s solidarity with Ukraine and to block any attempts by Russia to legitimize its war crimes through the sports sector,” the Latvian Saeima stated.
Russian hockey players
Russian hockey players. Credit: open sources
Latvia bans national sports teams from competing with Russian, Belarusian teams

The Latvian Saeima has passed amendments to the Sports Law, effectively banning Latvian national teams from competing against Russian and Belarusian teams in team sports. This decision, made on Thursday, 1 February, extends to matches where athletes from these countries compete under a neutral status.

The International Olympic Committee declared that Russian and Belarusian athletes who have met the qualification criteria of the International Federation will be granted the opportunity to compete in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris as Individual Neutral Athletes without any national affiliation.

Dāvis Mārtiņš Daugavietis, Chair of the Sports Subcommittee of the Education, Culture and Science Committee of the Saeima, underscored the motive behind the amendments, stating, “The basic idea of the amendments to the Sports Law is to stipulate at the level of national legislation that Latvian national teams representing team sports games, such as basketball, football or hockey, cannot play neither domestically, nor in neutral locations with teams from the aggressor countries – Russia and Belarus.”

He further elaborated on the implications for international sports organizations, highlighting the need for them to respect Latvian legislation in the event of a random draw pitting Latvia against these nations.

The amendments also prohibit Latvia from hosting or organizing any national team sports matches featuring Russian or Belarusian teams, whether under their national flags or in neutral status, across adult, youth, and junior competition levels.

This legislative action reflects Latvia’s ongoing commitment to expressing solidarity with Ukraine and aims to prevent Russia from using the sports sector to legitimize its war crimes. The decision resonates with previous concerns voiced by MPs about the international sports community’s tendencies that might allow Russian and Belarusian teams back into international competitions.

The law carefully avoids regulating the participation of Latvian athletes in the Olympic Games, leaving this decision to the Latvian Olympic Committee.

“It should be noted that the teams of the aggressor countries can no longer qualify for the Olympic Games,” Daugavietis added.

According to the press release, before finalizing the amendments, discussions were held with representatives from the sports sector to ensure the new provisions aligned with the broader interests of Latvian sports.

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