Thomas Konietzko spoke with athletes and officials in Ukraine ©ICF

International Canoe Federation (ICF) President Thomas Konietzko visited a city that experienced bombing near its regatta course on a trip to Ukraine.

The German's tour of the war-hit country saw him attempt to show solidary with Ukrainian paddlers and build bridges.

In April, the ICF ruled that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed to return to competition as neutrals, despite the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

This saw the sport fall into line with the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) recommendation, but Ukraine has vowed not to compete in any event where Russians are present. 

Konietzko visited Ternopil, which was hosting a national qualification event before the attack near its course.

He also held several meetings with athletes and officials to hear their views, including with Vadim Guttsait, Ukraine's Sports Minister and President of the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine.

"They spoke at length about the challenges facing Ukrainian athletes and reached a mutual understanding on many issues, respectfully addressing each other's different positions," the ICF said.

Thomas Konietzko, right, met with Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadim Guttsait and they
Thomas Konietzko, right, met with Ukrainian Sports Minister Vadim Guttsait and they "respectfully addressed each other's positions" ©ICF

"During the talks, President Konietzko advocated the unifying power of sport, especially in times of national conflict, and stressed the importance of active participation as a sign of solidarity. 

"It was underlined that supporting a non-engagement stance runs counter to the fundamental principles and mission of the Olympic Charter."

Konietzko also visited Bucha, accompanied by the President of the Ukrainian Canoe Federation, "to pay tribute to the victims of Russian aggression".

The ICF said it would use an independent panel to assess applications from Russians and Belarusians hoping to compete as neutrals.

Many Olympic sports have created pathways for athletes from the two countries to return after the IOC said they should be allowed if not in open support of the war or affiliated to the military.

They have all insisted that they still support Ukraine while claiming that politics should be kept out of sport.

Canoeing's decision was announced just a day after another missile attack forced the cancellation of the Canoe Sprint Ukrainian Cup in Uman. 

"Given the difficult circumstances, the ICF has already provided around €200,000 (£171,000/$217,000) in support since the conflict began in February 2022," the ICF said.

"In addition, several competition organisers and national federations have provided further support to enable participation in events and facilitate the organisation of training camps. 

"The ICF is committed to continue this support throughout the year and to unite as a global canoeing family to support Ukrainian canoeists.

The ICF has allowed a route back for Russian and Belarusian canoeists as neutrals ©Getty Images
The ICF has allowed a route back for Russian and Belarusian canoeists as neutrals ©Getty Images

"President Konietzko reiterated the ICF's unwavering support for the Ukrainian paddlers and stressed that under no circumstances should Russian or Belarusian athletes or officials participating as neutral athletes use the sporting platform to promote their countries or the ongoing conflict. 

"To maintain this stance, the ICF will introduce strict criteria for the participation of neutral athletes following the decision of the ICF Board on 29 April 2023. 

"President Konietzko expressed his strong desire for Ukrainian athletes to have the widest possible opportunities to compete and ensured that no regulations would hinder their participation in competitions.

"The ICF remains committed to work closely with the Ukrainian Canoe Federation, local authorities and relevant stakeholders to overcome the obstacles faced by Ukrainian athletes and ensure that their sporting aspirations are not hindered. 

"Through its solidarity and continued support, the ICF aims to strengthen the Ukrainian canoeing community and promote a better future for all involved."