FIG President Morinari Watanabe has defended the decision to permit Russian and Belarussian officials at the organisation's Congress ©Getty Images

International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) President Morinari Watanabe has defended the contentious decision to allow Russian and Belarussian delegates to attend the organisation's Congress, insisting members must "listen to their opinions".

The Japanese official has explained the reason behind the permission of Russia and Belarus in the latest FIG Bulletin previewing the Congress, due to be held from November 11 to 12 in Istanbul in Turkey.

The Netherlands is the latest country to boycott the annual meeting following Poland, Estonia, Norway, Ukraine, Lithuania and Italy.

All seven National Federations have cited the participation of Russian and Belarusian officials as the reason for their withdrawals.

Russia and Belarus have largely been frozen out of international sporting competition since the invasion of Ukraine in February, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommending that athletes and officials from both countries are excluded from events.

However, the IOC’s suggestions have not covered elected Russian and Belarusian officials, and several International Federations have permitted both nations taking part in their Congresses and General Assemblies.

The Russian Olympic Committee and the National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Belarus were both present at the Association of National Olympic Committees General Assembly in South Korean capital Seoul despite opposition.

IOC member Watanabe said it had decided not to exclude Russia and Belarus from the FIG Congress "because of our duty as an international organisation".

Seven nations have boycotted next month's FIG Congress over the participation of Russia and Belarus ©Getty Images
Seven nations have boycotted next month's FIG Congress over the participation of Russia and Belarus ©Getty Images

"When you are elected as a member of an international organisation, your position is not related to your country of origin," said Watanabe.

"Basically, you are in a neutral position.

"If that basic policy is not respected, international organisations cannot exist.

"That is why neither the United Nations nor the IOC has excluded Russia and Belarus.

"Above all, international organisations must make efforts to maintain, not to put an end to, relations with Russia and Belarus.

"As an international organisation, the FIG will convey our views to its Russian and Belarusian officials.

"And we, the FIG, must also listen to their opinions.

"After the war, we must all be one team again.

"Otherwise, we cannot create a bright future."

The FIG had initially allowed Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals following the invasion of Ukraine, before implementing a ban on their participation effective from March 7.

Istanbul is set to host the FIG Congress from November 11 to 12 ©Getty Images
Istanbul is set to host the FIG Congress from November 11 to 12 ©Getty Images

Competing under a neutral banner at the FIG Apparatus World Cup in Doha, Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak wore the letter "Z" on his singlet, a symbol widely regarded to be a signal of support for military action and displayed on tanks during the invasion.

Kuliak has since been banned by the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation for one year and stripped of the bronze medal he won at the World Cup.

Watanabe stressed that the FIG was "100 per cent against war" and has "no place for anyone who supports the war".

"If gymnasts or officials make statements or actions in support of this way, the FIG will impose strict punishments against them," added Watanabe.

"We will punish them as severely as the Gymnastics Ethics Federation does.

"I believe that punishment should be individual, not for the entire organisation.

"War crimes are also punished individually.

"Unnecessary punishments create new hatred.

"When the war eventually ends, we will have to reduce the hatred that might remain.

"We should avoid allowing hatred to be part of the future of the gymnastics family."