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Table tennis Russian, Belarusian players return as neutral: ITTF

Table tennis Russian, Belarusian players return as neutral: ITTF


(Reuters) Table tennis’s governing body said it will follow International Olympic Committee (IOC) guidelines for Russian and Belarusian players by allowing them to compete as neutral players.

The IOC on Tuesday issued a series of recommendations for international sports federations that will allow athletes from the two countries to return since their ban last year following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which Belarus helped facilitate.

The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) said on Thursday that players from Russia and Belarus could resume competition under strict conditions of neutrality from May at the earliest, but could not take part in that month’s world championships after missing qualifying matches.

The governing body, which will develop its own guidelines to specify the conditions for their participation, said it was well aware of the potential dialogues sport can create.

It cited the example of ping pong diplomacy, when American table tennis players traveled to China in 1971 for a series of exhibition matches that helped thaw relations between the two countries.

Table tennis has a long history of bringing people together, even when political ties are weak, it said.

It can build bridges, leading to better understanding between peoples, and open the door to peacebuilding in ways that exclusion and division cannot.

The ITTF reiterates its call for peace and unequivocally condemns the war in Ukraine. It stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and will continue to support the Ukrainian table tennis community.

The decision by the International Fencing Federation (FIE) to overturn a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes earlier this month has already sparked a backlash, with organizers in Germany and Denmark canceling their events.

Ukrainian fencers supported their federation’s decision to boycott matches involving Russians and Belarusians, while more than 300 fencers signed a letter asking the IOC and FIE to reconsider their decision.

(Reporting by Hritika Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)




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