EOC President Spyros Capralos said it was the "right decision" for Russian and Belarusian athletes to not participate at the European Games ©Kraków-Małopolska 2023

European Olympic Committees (EOC) President Spyros Capralos has said it was the "right decision" to exclude athletes from Russia and Belarus from the Kraków-Małopolska 2023 European Games here, which he described as an "outstanding success",

A decision on their non-participation was made last year, with Poland playing a leading role in the refugee relief effort from the war in neighbouring Ukraine.

This remained the case despite the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) updated recommendations lifting a recommended outright ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from international sport.

Speaking at the end of the European Games, Capralos said under the circumstances he felt the correct decision was taken.

"I'll be very brief in my answer," the EOC President, who is also an IOC member in Greece, said.

"I think we took the right decision.

"Nobody in these two weeks looked after what happened there.

"I think everybody looked at the great results of our athletes and the great competition.

"Regarding the future at the Olympic Games, it is the International Olympic Committee that will take its decisions going forward."

Polish Sports Minister Kamil Bortniczuk insisted
Polish Sports Minister Kamil Bortniczuk insisted "peace comes first" before he would support a return to international sport for Russia and Belarus ©Kraków-Małopolska 2023

Capralos also noted the success of the Ukrainian team, who finished third on the medals table with 21 golds at Kraków-Małopolska 2023, and claimed this would "bring encouragement to all the Ukrainian people".

The IOC has said it has not yet taken a final decision on Russian and Belarusian athletes' participation as individual neutrals at Paris 2024, although President Thomas Bach has suggested he would like all member nations to participate and made a point of referencing that "circumstances do not allow all European NOCs [National Olympic Committees]" to participate in his video message at the Opening Ceremony.

Poland has been among the nations most vocal in its criticism of the IOC's decision to relax its measures, and Sports Minister Kamil Bortniczuk argued today athletes from Russia and Belarus should not be allowed to return to international competition until compensation is provided to Ukraine for war damages.

"Mr President [Capralos], Hasan [Arat], thank you because we have kept our word in a number of areas including this particular one on the athletes from Belarus and Russia," Bortniczuk said.

"It goes to show it is possible to organise such events without athletes from Russia and Belarus.

"We would be happy to welcome athletes from Russia and Belarus in venues, but peace comes first and compensation for damages and losses, and only then can the sport world open up to these athletes.

"This is the situation we would like to see from the IOC."

Spyros Capralos claimed the European Games had been
Spyros Capralos claimed the European Games had been "an outstanding success" ©Kraków-Małopolska 2023

In his general reflections on the third edition of the European Games, Capralos provided an upbeat assessment.

"Let me be clear, these Games have been an outstanding success," he insisted.

"They have exceeded all of our expectations, and not because it gave us the opportunity to visit your beautiful country and region, but mainly because we heard so many positive comments from everybody in the European Olympic family in the warm hospitality and the quality of the venues and the operation and delivery of the Organising Committee.

"In spite of the challenges that Poland and Europe have faced, Poland demonstrated its capacity to deliver a world-class project."

The European Games are set to conclude today, having featured 7,000 athletes across 29 sports.