Protestors in Lausanne marched on the IOC headquarters to protest about Russia's participation at Paris 2024 and drew attention to Ukrainian cities where sports facilities have been damaged during the war with Russia ©Free Ukraine/Instagram

A group of pro-Ukrainian demonstrators have marched to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne urging it to reconsider its stance on Russia and Belarus.

The protest organised by Swiss-based non-profit organisations and volunteers of various nationalities began at the Olympic Museum, with participants making the 3.5-kilometre journey to Olympic House.

Demonstrators expressed their opposition to Russian and Belarusian athletes competing in international sport, including next year's Olympic Games in Paris, under any banner, and urged IOC sponsors to use their position to apply pressure on the organisation.

Chants including "Olympic Games without Russia" were made en route.

When they reached Olympic House, protestors drew attention to 27 cities in Ukraine where damage has been inflicted on athletes and sports facilities during the war with Russia.

The Geneva Branch of the Ukrainian Society in Switzerland Free Ukraine, All-Ukrainian Trade Union of Athletes, Workers in the Fields of Physical Culture and Sports, Youth Policy, and National-Patriotic Education, Association D Help Ua Ukraine Reborn and Ukrainian Women in Switzerland all supported the protest.

All-Ukrainian Trade Union of Athletes representatives David Zakharyan and Sergei Zhuž have additionally delivered a petition which they said had more than 290,000 signatures urging the IOC to prevent Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing at Paris 2024.

The IOC acknowledged the protestors concerns, and said it had welcomed organisers to its headquarters earlier in the week.

"The IOC respects people's right to demonstrate peacefully; we regularly engage with those who have concerns about the Olympic Movement or the Olympic Games," a spokesperson said.

"In this case too, we welcomed three of the organisers last week at Olympic House, to hear their views and present our position.

"The ongoing discussions and the upcoming meeting of the IOC Executive Board do not concern the participation of athletes with a Russian or Belarussian passport at the Olympic Games Paris 2024 or the Olympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026. 

"This decision will be taken at the appropriate time. 

"The current discussions are about guidance to International Federations for participation of athletes with a Russian or Belarussian passport in international competition under their authority in the upcoming months.

"The Olympic Summit held in December 2022 asked the IOC, as the leader of the Olympic movement, to find a pathway for neutral, individual athletes with Russian or Belarusian passport to participate in international competitions this year.

"In the past four months, the IOC has been in consultations with the Olympic Movement and these consultations are still ongoing."

The IOC said it "respects people's right to demonstrate peacefully" and welcomed three organisers of the protest to Olympic House to express their views ©Getty Images
The IOC said it "respects people's right to demonstrate peacefully" and welcomed three organisers of the protest to Olympic House to express their views ©Getty Images

The IOC has recommended the non-participation of athletes from both countries since the invasion of Ukraine in February last year, but in recent months has moved to explore a pathway for their return under "strict conditions" of neutrality.

The issue is set to dominate the IOC Executive Board meeting from Tuesday (March 28) to Thursday (March 30).

IOC President Thomas Bach has defended the decision to seek Russian and Belarusian athletes' return, insisting it has a "responsibility towards human rights and the Olympic Charter".

One proposal suggested has been Russian and Belarusian athletes competing in Asian competitions, given travel restrictions and opposition to their participation in Europe.

The IOC's move has proved divisive, and one major International Federation, World Athletics, declared earlier this week it would maintain a ban on Russia and Belarus for "the foreseeable future".

A group of 35 nations have urged the IOC to clarify its definition of neutrality, and there have been threats of a Paris 2024 boycott from Ukraine.

Critics argue Russian and Belarusian athletes would be used for political purposes by both regimes, which the IOC insists would remain sanction through a ban on national symbols and hosting events.