London, July 25 – The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the organisers of the 2012 London Games Wednesday denied they had banned Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko from attending the Olympics.
The head of Russia’s Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, tweeted earlier Wednesday that the Belarus president had been denied accreditation to the sports extravaganza.
“The organising committee in London did not give accreditation to President Alexander Lukashenko. Isn’t sports outside politics,” Zhukov said.
But Lukashenko was one of 204 heads of state invited by the Local Olympic Games Organising Committee to the Games, a LOCOG representative told R-Sport.
The representative explained that the British Home Office began examining visa applications only after the invitations were issued.
A Home Office spokesperson refused to comment on individual cases, citing policy.
The International Olympic Committee, meanwhile, confirmed that it too had not banned Lukashenko.
“It is the responsibility of the local government to decide who enters the host nation’s territory or not,” an IOC spokesperson told R-Sport by email.
“Each accredited person at the Olympic Games goes through the relevant security background checks. Those are conducted by the local authorities.”
The Olympics start in London Friday, July 27, and run until Aug 12.
Lukashenko sent off his Olympic team to London earlier this month, setting them a target of 25 medals including five golds.
Lukashenko, labelled by the United States as Europe’s last dictator, said in mid-July he thought the games were “politicized”.
The European Union announced a visa ban and asset freeze on Lukashenko and almost 160 of his officials in January 2011, following disputed presidential elections.
Lukashenko stayed in power after the disputed December 2010 elections. The Belarusian government crushed subsequent protests against the results and arrested many opposition figures.
In March, European Parliament said Belarus should not host the 2014 ice hockey world championships because of continuing human rights abuses in the country.
The parliament adopted a resolution saying the International Ice Hockey Federation should consider moving the tournament “until the regime shows commitment to human rights and the rule of law”.
The championships would be the first major sporting event held in Belarus.