DIF President Hans Natorp argued "it will be unacceptable to open up" for Russian and Belarusian participation ©Hans Natorp/Twitter

Danish National Olympic Committee (NOC) President Hans Natorp has insisted a return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international competitions would be "unacceptable", but another opponent in the Finnish Olympic Committee recognised a "majority of countries" support their return as neutrals.

Russia and Belarus have been largely frozen out of international sport since the widely-condemned invasion of Ukraine in February last year, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed it would continue to "explore a pathway" for both nations' athletes to compete at Paris 2024 under a neutral banner.

The IOC has insisted this would be under "strict conditions" of neutrality, although Ukraine has warned it could boycott next year's Olympic Games if Russia and Belarus are permitted to compete under any banner.

Nordic NOCs of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Greenland, Faroe Islands and Aland have been among the most vocal opponents of Russian and Belarusian participation in sport since the start of the war in Ukraine.

National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark President Hans Natorp made a notable intervention at the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) General Assembly in Seoul in October, where he was involved in a lively exchange with IOC President Thomas Bach over Russia and Belarus' place in international sport.

Discussing the latest development, Natorp referred to the Nordic NOCs statement from September opposing the presence of Russian and Belarusian athletes, and insisted there it would not alter its stance because of "escalating" aggression by Russia in Ukraine.

"Under these circumstances, it will be unacceptable to open up for [Russian] and Belarusian international sports participation," he wrote on Twitter.

"We stand firmly in our position.

"Now is not the right time to consider their return.

"We are of course monitoring the communication and initiatives from the IOC carefully and keep a close collaboration with the Nordic countries."

The IOC claims a potential return of Russian and Belarusian athletes would be under
The IOC claims a potential return of Russian and Belarusian athletes would be under "strict conditions" of neutrality ©Getty Images

The Finnish Olympic Committee reiterated its opposition to the inclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international sport.

It has confirmed that Finland was one of the NOCs who took part in consultation calls with the IOC earlier this month, referenced by the Lausanne-based body in its latest statement in which it claimed a "vast majority" of participants supported its stance.

Its chief executive Taina Susiluoto welcomed a continuation of sanctions against Russia and Belarus including a ban on national symbols.

However, she recognised "the majority of countries in the world seem to be ready to test the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes as neutral athletes", and was adamant that this must be under strict conditions including neutrality and only for those who have not actively supported the war.

"Many other European countries have also demanded strict boundary conditions, if the restoration of competition rights is planned," Susiluoto said.

"This point of view has received more support than the complete exclusion of Russians and Belarusians from international sports, and the IOC also stated this in its announcement.

"We are monitoring the development of the situation and will take the necessary measures when we hear more about it.

"Our thoughts are in support of the Ukrainians, and in addition, our central interest is to ensure that Finnish top athletes do not suffer from the situation, but are able to practice their profession and pursue their dreams with the best possible operating conditions."

Euractiv has reported that Finland's Science and Culture Minister Petri Honkonen sought to persuade the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee to return to a tough stance opposing the participation of Russia and Belarus in international sport on a visit to Washington DC.

Ukraine's Sports Minister and NOC President Vadym Guttsait said he had been "assured" of the USOPC's support for its position by its new chair Gene Sykes.

However, the USOPC was a participant in the Olympic Summit last month where a proposal for Russians and Belarusians to compete in Asian qualifiers for Paris 2024 was first mooted, and said afterwards that it backed the agreement "in the best long-term interest of the Movement".

Panam Sports has backed "all the measures and sanctions" adopted by the IOC in response to the war in Ukraine, and has agreed with allowing individual athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate if they comply with the required conditions.

The Finnish Olympic Committee opposes a return of Russian and Belarusian athletes, but has recognised
The Finnish Olympic Committee opposes a return of Russian and Belarusian athletes, but has recognised "the majority of countries in the world seem to be ready" ©Getty Images

"Panam Sports, as the leader of the Olympic Movement of the Americas and promoter of the values of the Olympic Charter to the athletes and nations of our continent, will always stand for peace, understanding and brotherhood among the countries of the world and the protection and support of all athletes," it said.

The European Olympic Committees has also declared that it "does not feel athletes should be prevented from competing solely on the basis of which passport they hold".

European NOCs were divided over the participation of Russia and Belarus, and travel between Europe and Russia is restricted because most countries have introduced sanctions in response to the war in Ukraine.

The Olympic Federation of Ireland has vowed to hold further talks with its members on the issue of athlete participation.

"We are engaging in consultation on this matter with all our stakeholder groups, including our Athletes Commission, because it is complex and still raw, and it’s important we’re given the time to do that," its chief executive Peter Sherrard told the Irish Times.