Russia topped the medals table at both Baku 2015 and Minsk 2019 but faces missing Kraków-Małopolska 2023 ©Getty Images

Kraków-Małopolska 2023 President Marcin Nowak has said that it is "not possible" to play host to Russian and Belarusian athletes next year but admits their participation in the European Games is out of local organisers' hands.

Poland has played a huge role in the Ukrainian refugee relief effort, providing shelter and support to millions of people displaced by the war after crossing the Polish border.

Athletes from Russia and its military ally Belarus have been largely frozen out from competing in international competition since the full-scale invasion in late February.

But there have been suggestions that sanctions could start to be loosened, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said to be looking at a "pathway" for Russia's return.

IOC President Thomas Bach has reportedly said that Russian athletes could be allowed back on the international stage - if they do not support the war.

The European Games are due to be staged in Kraków and the Małopolska region in fewer than nine months’ time.

Russia has racked up more European Games medals than any other nation, winning 123 gold, 64 silver and 86 bronze medals over the previous two editions, while Belarus, which staged the event in 2019, sits second on the medals table with 111.

Nowak said he could not foresee Russian and Belarusian athletes competing at Kraków-Małopolska 2023 but insisted that the European Olympic Committees (EOC) would need to make the decision.

Kraków-Małopolska 2023 President Marcin Nowak feels it is
Kraków-Małopolska 2023 President Marcin Nowak feels it is "not possible" to host Russian and Belarusian athletes in Poland due to the war in neighbouring Ukraine ©EOC

"From my point of view, it’s not possible to host them in Poland because nobody would agree to it but of course the final decision will be in the EOC’s hands," Nowak told insidethegames.

While the ban on Russian and Belarusian competitors has been in place, qualifiers for the European Games have already got underway.

"If they [Russia and Belarus] cannot take part in the qualification they cannot be a part of our Games, but the decision is not mine," added Nowak.

The opening day of the EOC Seminar in Ancient Olympia in Greece was overshadowed by a feud over the permission of Russian and Belarusian delegates to take part.

Ukrainian and Nordic officials were silenced after EOC President Spyros Capralos insisted that "any political statement" would be "strictly prohibited".

It has also emerged that Sergey Bubka, the head of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine and an IOC member, issued a letter on Thursday (September 29) calling on Capralos and the EOC Executive Committee to uphold the suspension of Russian and Belarusian athletes as war rages on in his home country.

The EOC responded by reiterating its condemnation of Russia's military assault on Ukraine and said it was in "close dialogue" with its members and the IOC in a bid to address "this highly sensitive, complex and evolving situation".

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion with the aid of Belarus on February 24, Poland has welcomed more Ukrainian refugees than any other nation.

Millions of Ukrainian citizens have crossed the Polish border to seek refuge since the war started ©Getty Images
Millions of Ukrainian citizens have crossed the Polish border to seek refuge since the war started ©Getty Images

According to the United Nations, around 6.5 million Ukrainians have crossed the Polish border, with 1.4 million refugees from Ukraine now residing in Poland.

Nowak acknowledged that war in Ukraine has been one of the major challenges to preparations for next year's European Games.

But Nowak believes the multi-sport event can demonstrate that Poland is a "fair" and "safe" nation.

"We want to show the world that you can come and we can entertain you," said Nowak.

"Nobody knows [what will happen next in the war] so we should never say what we expect in the future.

"Many millions of Ukrainian people have come from the Polish border and we are helping as much as we can of course.

"There are no refugee camps in Poland so every person that comes from Ukraine is living in our houses or hotels.

"The Games are a great opportunity to show the world how Poland is working on it.

"We want to show the world our unity."

Kraków-Małopolska 2023 is to be the third edition the European Games, following on from Baku in 2015 and Minsk in 2019.

The event is due to run from June 21 to July 2 next year.