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Olympic chief 'very concerned' by reports of athlete discrimination in Belarus

Belarus basketball player Yelena Leuchanka, pictured in 2015, was jailed for 15 days over protests against President Alexander Lukashenko
Belarus basketball player Yelena Leuchanka, pictured in 2015, was jailed for 15 days over protests against President Alexander Lukashenko Attila KISBENEDEK AFP
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Lausanne (AFP)

Olympic chief Thomas Bach expressed his deep concern Wednesday at reports of Belarusian athletes being discriminated against by the country's National Olympic Committee (NOC), headed by President Alexander Lukashenko, for their political views.

Protesters have taken to the streets of Belarusian cities since Lukashenko claimed a sixth term with 80 percent of the vote in the August 9 election.

Since the election, riot police have detained thousands of protesters, some of whom have reported torture and abuse in custody, prompting international condemnation and proposed EU sanctions.

Several people have died in the crackdown.

A number of prominent Belarusian athletes signed a petition demanding an end to violence and new elections, including two-time Olympic basketball player Yelena Leuchanka, who was detained at Minsk airport last month while trying to leave the country and jailed for 15 days over the protests.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), its president Bach said in Lausanne, was investigating the "situation of the NOC of Belarus because in the last couple of weeks we have received various worrying reports through individual athlete letters and the media on the possible politically-motivated interference by the National Olympic Committee or its member federations".

The IOC, Bach said, had sought assurances from the Belarus government and NOC that athletes would not be discriminated against for political views that might be perceived as anti-governmental.

The Belarus NOC, Bach added, had responded that "the selection process of athletes for upcoming Olympic Games will be based strictly on athletes' performance and results in major sports events".

When the IOC enquired specifically about Leuchanka, the NOC simply said she hadn't been a member of national team since early 2018.

The IOC's executive board "will continue and strengthen our investigation to determine whether the NOC has fulfilled and is fulfilling its obligations towards its athletes as per the Olympic Charter and as they have committed to do in answers to our letters".

"As part of this procedure the IOC will also investigate whether the funds provided to the NOC by the IOC have been directed towards their approved recipients, notably the Olympic scholarship holders preparing for the Tokyo Olympics 2020, and this is happening without any discrimination."

Bach added: "We are very concerned about the information we are getting.

"This is why we are looking into it and we will strengthen our investigation because here what we are hearing... is that in fact athletes are saying that they are discriminated by their NOC just for political reasons.

"Non-discrimination is an essential value of the Olympic Movement and of the Olympic Charter and this is why we are so concerned and this is why we are taking it so seriously."

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