EOC President Spyros Capralos confirmed that Russia and Belarus would not be present at the General Assembly in Skopje ©EOC

European Olympic Committees (EOC) President Spyros Capralos has confirmed that the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) of Russia and Belarus will not take part in the EOC General Assembly here.

The Greek official cited "the current exceptional context and the need to protect the functioning of the General Assembly" for the EOC Executive Board's decision.

Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) President Stanislav Pozdnyakov had hit out at "frankly absurd attempts by the European Olympic Committees to ban our participation in the organisation's General Assembly" at the national body's Executive Committee meeting yesterday.

Capralos addressed the involvement of the ROC and the NOC of the Republic of Belarus in his opening remarks.

"I often refer to the EOC as a family with 50 children," the Greek official, who is also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said.

"Like any big family we rarely are completely united but as the head of the family I try to keep us all together.

"So dear friends, it saddens me to say that today our gathering is missing two key family members.

"I am sure that you have all read the resolution taken with a heavy heart by the EOC Executive Committee on the attendance of Russia and Belarus at this General Assembly.

"The current exceptional context, and the need to protect the proper functioning of this General Assembly, resulted in this decision.

"Simply put, right up until the May 26, the intention had been for Russia and Belarus to participate remotely.

"It is clear that despite this EOC Executive Committee decision there was, in some quarters, strong opposition to their attendance and we have listened to these members.

"I must stress that it is not under the EOC’s jurisdiction to suspend members - NOCs.

"Only the IOC can take this action.

"In order to protect the integrity of the General Assembly and ensure that we are quorate today, it was agreed that Russian and Belarusian NOCs should not attend this meeting."

President Spyros Capralos said the EOC Executive Committee had taken the decision on Russia and Belarus
President Spyros Capralos said the EOC Executive Committee had taken the decision on Russia and Belarus "with a heavy heart" ©EOC

Capralos insisted: "We must use sport as a vehicle for peace and non-discrimination.

"Peace through sport as envisaged by our founding fathers.

"We were faced with a dilemma which threatened whether this meeting could take place at all.

"But let me stress in the strongest possible terms that we must now and going forward stick to the Olympic principles and use sport as a vehicle for peace and non-discrimination.

"Therefore this is an exceptional, one off protective measure whilst we seek a sustainable way forward to conduct our business and to open a dialogue that will lead to reconciliation and unity within the European sports family."

The EOC President also insisted that sport should be protected from "interference from Governments", and that "there is much work, diplomacy, and bridge-building to be done in the months and years ahead."

Russia's official state news agency TASS reported yesterday that Pozdnyakov had threatened that the ROC would take "legal steps" and questioned the "legitimacy" of the General Assembly.

The EOC has followed the IOC's recommendations in excluding athletes from Russia and Belarus from this year's Winter and Summer editions of the European Youth Olympic Festival.

Spyros Capralos said that the EOC hopes
Spyros Capralos said that the EOC hopes "next year's European Games could become a Games of peace and reconciliation open to all European athletes" ©Getty Images

It also decided "temporarily" not to invite officials from both countries to attend Executive Committee and Commission meetings.

Russia's and Belarus' NOCs have avoided direct sanction by the IOC, whose President Thomas Bach has insisted "we will not sanction a National Olympic Committee for the actions of its Government, as long as the NOCs leading individuals do not support these actions".

Pozdnyakov has criticised "hysterical decisions" taken by sports organisations in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

A firm timeline has not been provided for the lifting of measures against Russia and Belarus, although Capralos hinted that he hopes athletes from both countries can compete at the 2023 European Games in Kraków-Małopolska, which offers a qualifying opportunity for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

"Our wish is that next year’s European Games could be a Games of peace and reconciliation open to all European athletes," he said.

"The return of the athletes to competition should become our top priority."

The EOC General Assembly is due to run today and tomorrow.