BERLIN (Reuters) – The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is investigating claims by Belarus athletes they are being discriminated against because of their political views, IOC President Thomas Bach said on Wednesday.
Belarus has been rocked by protests since an Aug. 9 election that confirmed another term for President Alexander Lukashenko.
“We are very concerned about the information we are getting,” Bach said in a conference call at the end of the body’s executive board meeting.
He said the IOC had already corresponded with the national committee and would now also look into scholarship and other funds that had been directed to Belarus and whether they had reached the individuals they were meant for.
“What we are hearing is in fact athletes are saying that they are discriminated against by their National Olympic Committee (NOC) just for political reasons,” Bach said.
Lukashenko is also president of his country’s Olympic committee (NOC).
“Non-discrimination is an essential value of the Olympic movement. This is why we are taking it so seriously,” Bach said.
“The Executive Board… decided we will strengthen our investigation to determine whether the NOC has fulfilled and is fulfilling obligation as per the Olympic charter.”
Lukashenko is struggling to contain nearly two months of street protests and more than 13,000 people have been arrested and many opposition leaders jailed.
Belarus athletes have repeatedly urged sports bodies including the IOC to suspend the national Olympic committee’s membership.
“We are a civil non-governmental organisation and our mandate is limited to sport. We cannot change the laws or the political system or the laws of a sovereign country,” Bach said.
“But we are taking very seriously the mandate we have to ensure that the NOCs of any country respect the Olympic charter and that athletes enjoy rights in compliance with the charter.”
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann, editing by Ed Osmond)