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Latvia has threatened to boycott next year’s Paris Olympics if Russian athletes are allowed to take part during the war in Ukraine and is calling on other countries to form a coalition to pressure international sports bodies.

The Latvian Olympic Committee is the first national Olympic body other than Ukraine which has threatened to boycott rather than compete against Russia.

It marks a rare challenge from within the sports world to the International Olympic Committee, which wants to let competitors from Russia and its ally Belarus take part as “neutral athletes”. The national Olympic committees who send the teams have mostly stayed quiet or backed the IOC, even as politicians in many European countries have said Russia shouldn’t return to competition.

“For as long as there is an ongoing war in Ukraine, participation of the Russian and Belarusian athletes in the Olympic Games under any flag is unacceptable,” Latvian National Olympic Committee president Zorzs Tikmers said in a statement Wednesday.

A boycott could start soon. Tikmers said Monday that Latvia would send not a team to the Paris Olympics if they were to take place right now with Russian or Belarusian involvement. He broadened that position Wednesday by saying Latvia should boycott Olympic qualifying competitions, which are already under way in some sports, if Russians or Belarusians are allowed in.

“NOC Latvia deems unacceptable for Latvian teams and individual athletes to participate in such international sports competitions that have not expelled Russian and Belarusian athletes from the participation, including the Olympic qualifications competitions,” he said.

Latvia called on international sports bodies and countries including Britain, France and Canada to speak out against Russia’s involvement and stop Russia and Belarus from gaining “soft power” through sports.

There was no immediate response from the IOC.

Tikmers was himself a silver medalist in rowing for the Soviet Union at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which numerous countries including the United States boycotted in protest after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan.

Latvia, which borders Russia and regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, has been a strong supporter of Ukraine. Latvia is the defending Olympic champion in men’s 3-on-3 basketball after beating the Russian team in the gold-medal game in Tokyo in 2021.

Ukraine is steadfastly opposed to letting Russians compete. Any neutral flag for Russia would be “stained with blood,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week. The Ukrainian National Olympic Committee has threatened to boycott and is due to hold talks Friday on the issue. Ukraine boycotted some sports competitions, including Olympic judo qualifiers, last year when Russians competed.

Other national Olympic sports bodies, including the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, back the IOC efforts to find a path for Russians to compete. The IOC is pushing sports federations to allow any Russians or Belarusians who have not been “actively supporting the war in Ukraine” and argues it would be discriminatory to ban athletes based on their citizenship alone.

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