The NIF called for a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes prior to the IOC's recommendations at the end of February ©Getty Images

Øyvind Watterdal has resigned from the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports (NIF) Sports Board in protest at its strong opposition to the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international sporting events.

The NIF was among the most vocal in its call for a ban on athletes from both countries following the "totally unacceptable" invasion of Ukraine, and also suggested that officials from Russia and Belarus should be suspended from positions.

Its statement on February 26 predated the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) call two days later for Russian and Belarusian athletes to be excluded from international competitions.

However, Norwegian broadcaster NRK reported that Watterdal, who served as an athlete representative deputy on the NIF Sports Board, resigned from his post over the organisation's stance, although will continue on the Athletes' Committee for the remainder of his term.

Cross-country skier and ski orienteer Watterdal is the deputy chair of the NIF Athletes' Committee, which is led by Astrid Uhrenholdt Jacobsen, a member of the IOC.

Watterdal cited a lack of consultation with the Athletes' Committee in an email confirming his decision.

"The decision is made on the basis of NIF's call to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes and the lack of involvement of the UK [Athletes' Committee] during the decision," Watterdal said, as reported by NRK.

"It is a decision that is in sharp conflict with my values and perception of what sports should be.

"Therefore, I have decided that I do not want to represent or be associated with this decision by withdrawing."

He added in a comment to NRK: "We have not had the opportunity to discuss, because we have not been invited.

"I have been against political demonstrations on the podium.

"In general, I do not want to mix politics and sports, so there are probably others who think there is a lot of politics in sports.

"But there is no excuse."

Norwegian bodies including the NIF have been among the most vocal in their condemnation of Russia's invasion of Ukraine ©Getty Images
Norwegian bodies including the NIF have been among the most vocal in their condemnation of Russia's invasion of Ukraine ©Getty Images

Watterdal clarified that he opposed the war in Ukraine, but felt the NIF rushed into its decision.

"I am a strong opponent of the ongoing war and personally know Ukrainians who are both above and below ground who are terrified," he told NRK.

"It is an extremely big decision.

"It was on the steps with the Paralympics and the World Cup, and you may have to have some ice in your stomach."

"You do not have to do as everyone else does."

He said that he did not expect that his resignation "will lead to anything, but I do this for my own conscience, to stand up for my Russian colleagues and be able to stand and look them in the eye".

Watterdal also claimed he had received "positive feedback from those I have sent messages to internally", including one member of the Sports Board who respected while disagreeing with his decision.

NIF President Berit Kjøll denied Watterdal's allegation that the Athletes' Committee was not consulted.

"The Athletes' Committee is represented on the Sports Board, but [Watterdal] announced his resignation to the Sports Board meeting when the decision was made on February 26," she told NRK.

"The Sports Board is quorate when a majority of the members meet."

Kjøll also defended the NIF's position, and insisted it was correct to take a firm stance against Russian sport.

"The decision was made in light of several international sanctions that were implemented against Russian authorities from other European countries, the EU [European Union] and the USA [United States]," she was quoted by NRK.

"The decision will contribute to the incumbent regime in Russia not being able to use Russian sports achievements internationally for the regime's propaganda purposes.

"We are pleased that several large international sports organisations have made similar decisions afterwards."

Prior to the NIF's strong public stance, matched at the time by the National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark, the IOC had urged all events to be moved from the Russia and Belarus, and for both countries' national flags not to be displayed at sporting competitions.

Numerous International Federations have since heeded the IOC's updated recommendations on imposing a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes.

The International Paralympic Committee also reversed an initial decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics under a neutral banner, banning them outright after a number of National Paralympic Committees reportedly threatened to pull out of the Games.

Norway is also included on a list of 37 nations whose Governments have backed sporting sanctions against the two aggressors in the Ukrainian conflict.

However, a handful of International Federations including those for judo, tennis, skateboarding, aquatics and cycling have permitted Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals.

Women's Tennis Association chairman and chief executive Steve Simon holds a similar stance to Watterdal, telling the BBC that players from both countries should not be "penalised by the decisions of an authoritarian leadership".

Watterdal's position was praised by several Russian athletes including Beijing 2022 cross-country skiing women's 4x5 kilometres relay gold medallist Veronika Stepanova, who posted on Instagram that she was happy that "not everyone in the West, in Norway in particular, supports the illegal and the immoral decision to exclude the Russian athletes from international competitions based solely on the fact that we are Russian".

The Russian military offensive on Ukraine, assisted by Belarus, has received widespread international condemnation.

At least 691 civilians have been killed in the war according to the United Nations, although it is feared that the true death toll is far higher.

More than three million people have also fled Ukraine since the beginning of the war.