Ukrainian boxers in full preparation for Paris 2024, despite the war

For an official of the Ukrainian boxing federation, “these will be the most difficult Olympic Games in the history of Ukrainians.” With also uncertainty about the attitude to adopt towards Russian athletes.


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Boxers from the Ukrainian Olympic team training in kyiv.  March 2024 (YACHAR FAZILOV / RADIO FRANCE)

Less than five months before the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Ukrainian athletes are training as best they can. Their preparation is obviously altered and made more difficult by the war, to which is added a feeling of incomprehension in the face of the IOC’s decision. The International Olympic Committee authorized Russian athletes to compete under a neutral banner, without a Russian flag or national anthem.

The boxing gym is on the first floor of the gigantic sports complex which is a bit like kyiv’s equivalent of Insep. At 25, Anastasia Kovalchuk is preparing to live her Olympic dream despite the living conditions in Ukraine for two years. “We have to train with the sound of explosions, with the sound of missiles when the walls and windows shake. But we can’t do anything about it. For two years of war, we’ve gotten used to that. We can’t give up and not train.”

If Anastasia meets a Russian boxer on her Olympic route, it will inevitably be a special encounter. “There will be no respect between adversariesshe says, but just blood vengeance”.

Sergei Danylin, head coach of the Ukrainian women's boxing team, in kyiv.  March 2024 (YACHAR FAZILOV / RADIO FRANCE)

The head coach of the boxing team, Sergei Danylin, has a hard time imagining Russians in the Paris Olympic ring: “I understand that the IOC has a balanced position, but many Russian athletes are conscripts. They are in the army, they support Putin !”he says.

Nearly 500 sports infrastructures have been affected, a thousand athletes are involved in the army, 400 have died or been injured. The preparation conditions are therefore more than delicate, assures Donatas Piskun, of the Ukrainian Boxing Federation: “Many athletes have gone abroad. It will be the most difficult Olympic Games in the history of Ukrainians.”

How to manage a possible face-to-face meeting between Ukrainian and Russian athletes?

The work of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee goes well beyond just sports preparation: we must anticipate to prevent any contact between Russian and Ukrainian athletes, before and after their possible confrontation. “In sports where you have to shake hands, we already work with international federationssays Vadim Gutzeit, president of the Ukrainian National Olympic Committee. We want to avoid provocations from Russian athletes. We have the right not to greet them.”

Agreements have already been reached with the wrestling and fencing federations, notably after the gesture of a swordswoman, Olga Kharlan, who refused to shake the hand of her Russian opponent. She was then disqualified.

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