Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from the Winter European Youth Olympic Festival in Vuokatti later this month ©EYOF2022

The European Olympic Committees (EOC) says it has "with reluctance" banned Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from this month's Winter European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF), citing a desire to protect participants' wellbeing and the integrity of the event.

A scheduled European Athletes Conference in Brussels next Wednesday (March 9) has also been cancelled.

On Monday (February 28), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended that organisers of international sporting events impose bans on athletes and officials from Russia and Belarus, following the invasion of Ukraine.

The EOC said it "stands in solidarity with Ukraine and fully supports the [IOC] statement and all recommended actions."

Having consulted the Vuokatti 2022 Organising Committee and other relevant parties, Russian and Belarusian participation at the EYOF will not be permitted.

The EOC said it had taken the decision "with reluctance due to the exceptional young age of the affected athletes", but concurred with the IOC that "this is a dilemma that cannot be resolved."

The multi-sport event for athletes aged between 14 and 18 is due to be held from March 20 to 25.

The IOC's recommendations suggested Russian and Belarusian athletes could compete as neutrals with no national symbols, colours, flags or anthems where their expulsion "is not possible on short notice for organisational or legal reasons."

Earlier today. the International Paralympic Committee ruled that Russian and Belarusian competitors could feature at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics as neutrals, which are due to open on Friday (March 4).

However, the EOC said that it had taken the decision to implement a ban in the interests of other athletes taking part.

"The EOC recognises that the IOC statement did make exceptional provisions for organisers of events due to take place at very short notice," it said.

"However, in order to safeguard the well-being of such young athletes, as well as protect the integrity of the event, the EOC believes Russian and Belarusian athletes should not compete in Vuokatti in any capacity."

Sarajevo and East Sarajevo staged the last edition of the winter EYOF in 2019 ©Getty Images
Sarajevo and East Sarajevo staged the last edition of the winter EYOF in 2019 ©Getty Images

It added: "The EOC continues to monitor the war in Ukraine on an hourly basis and will give further updates in due course on the unified approach of European National Olympic Committees in support of the athletes and people of Ukraine."

The winter EYOF in Finland is currently scheduled to take place as planned, with nine sports on the programme.

Around 1,600 participants are typically expected at the winter edition of the festival.

It has twice been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, having been originally scheduled for February and then December last year.

Sarajevo and East Sarajevo staged the last edition of the winter EYOF in 2019.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has sparked a backlash, with an increasing number of International Federations following the IOC's recommendations on the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes from their events.

An EOC Athletes Conference in Belgium's capital Brussels, which had been due to take place on March 9, has been called off due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The EOC said its Executive Committee had taken the decision following "consultation with the EOC Athletes Commission, the International Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission, the European Commission, and the EOC EU Office".

"The humanitarian crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week has resulted in the European sports movement’s urgent focus being on supporting the Ukrainian Olympic Community," the EOC explained.

"Therefore, it would not have been appropriate or productive to host a wide-ranging meeting on matters affecting European athletes next week. 

"Additionally, the war in Ukraine would have prevented the safe travel to Brussels for a number of participants."

Details on a new date for the Conference will be announced by the EOC at a later date.