Czech Republic's former modern pentathlon Olympic champion David Svoboda claimed the UN General Assembly verdict on the war in Ukraine "could easily be a mistake" ©Getty Images

Former Olympic champion David Svoboda has been criticised by Czech Republic's Defence Minister Jana Černochová and stepped down as Czech Olympic Committee (ČOV) Athletes' Commission chair following controversial comments he made on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international sport.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) this week allowed Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to international sport as individual neutrals, provided they do not support the invasion of Ukraine and are not affiliated to the military.

Czech Republic is one of the countries where this has proved a particularly sensitive issue, with the Senate last month calling for athletes from both countries to be banned because of the war in Ukraine.

IOC President Thomas Bach on Thursday (March 30) slammed European Governments opposed to its stance, describing their criticism as "deplorable".

The IOC has stressed it has not taken a final decision on the Paris 2024 Olympics, but the ČOV in February ruled out any boycott while expressing support for the previous stance on the non-participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.

London 2012 men's modern pentathlon Olympic champion Svoboda caused controversy in the Czech Republic last week with comments to public broadcaster Czech Television.

Svoboda backed the IOC's stance by arguing "politics does not belong philosophically in sport", but the Czech military officer was particularly criticised for commenting "the first casualty of every war conflict is the truth" and "we have a lot of information, sometimes conflicting".

Asked about the condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations General Assembly, Svoboda replied: "It could easily be a mistake."

David Svoboda's comments on Russia's invasion of Ukraine were even more controversial due to his role in the military in the Czech Republic ©Department of Defence
David Svoboda's comments on Russia's invasion of Ukraine were even more controversial due to his role in the military in the Czech Republic ©Department of Defence

Czech Republic's Olympic ice hockey gold medallist Dominik Hašek accused Svoboda of supporting "Russian propaganda" for the "war, killings and crimes".

Fellow ČOV Athletes' Commission members Vavřinec Hradilek and Lukáš Rohan, both canoe slalom Olympic medallists, distanced themselves from Svoboda's remarks.

Svoboda sought to clarify his comments on Facebook, insisting he does not approve of the war in Ukraine and is "only interested in defending innocent athletes and that politics interfere with sports as little as possible".

He asked for forgiveness at his comments, claiming some of his statements "probably gave a completely different impression than I intended" and acknowledging he had shown "clumsiness in the interview".

Svoboda met with Černochová and Pavel Benec, the director of the Czech Army’s Dukla sports club, over the remarks.

The Olympic gold medallist is a member and coach at Dukla, and a lieutenant in the Czech military.

He has stepped down as chair of the ČOV Athletes' Commission after meeting with Černochová and Benec.

"The dual role of a professional soldier and a representative of athletes in the Commission does not go together, that's why I decided to resign from membership," Svoboda said.

"I am not a lawyer for Russia and I am sorry that my clumsy statements could harm the army and the Department of Defence."

Benec is set to issue a written reprimand to Svoboda for failing to "behave even outside of duty in such a way as not to endanger the seriousness and credibility of the armed forces".

Černochová said on Twitter after Svoboda's comments that "it is not normal for Russian and Belarusian athletes to go to the Olympics, which Ukrainians will not go to because they are defending their homeland", and does not "understand how a soldier and an Olympian can dispute this".

During the meeting with Svoboda, she showed him a poster with portraits of Ukrainian athletes killed or missing because of the war, and the pair have agreed to visit Ukraine.

"The Ministry of Defence and the military support Ukraine and do not agree to Russian and Belarusian athletes competing in the Olympics when their Ukrainian colleagues are dying on the front in a war launched by Russia and supported by Belarus," Černochová commented.

"I expect this united attitude from all soldiers.

"Mr Svoboda and I talked about it for a long time, I agree with his superior's solution, and we agreed that we would go together to see the Ukrainian soldiers in Libava.

"To hear their stories together about what Russia is doing in Ukraine.

"This is not a punishment for an opinion, but for not observing how a professional soldier should act in public."

The ČOV told insidethegames it "accepts the resignation of David Svoboda from his position on the Czech Olympic Committee Athletes' Commission, which was his personal and independent decision".