Olympic chiefs have issued a rebuke to the UK government over its lobbying of sponsors including Visa, Deloitte and Allianz for Russia to remain banned from sport.
The UK has been among the most vocal and active opponents of the International Olympic Committee’s plan to lift the suspension of Russia and its ally Belarus.
Culture secretary Lucy Frazer wrote to the biggest Olympic commercial partners at the weekend, urging them to support the ban remaining in place for the Paris 2024 Games.
The IOC, headed by president Thomas Bach, said: “It must be the sole responsibility of sports organisations to decide which athletes can take part in international competitions based exclusively on their sporting merit.
“In accordance with this, Olympic sponsors are not involved in this decision-making process. We hope very much that the British government will respect the autonomy of sport.”
Frazer laid out her concerns in a letter to the UK chiefs of 13 companies, also including Airbnb, Alibaba, Atos, Bridgestone, Coca-Cola, Intel, Omega SA, Proctor and Gamble, Samsung and Toyota.
“We know sport and politics in Russia and Belarus are heavily intertwined, and we are determined that the regimes in Russia and Belarus must not be allowed to use sport for their propaganda purposes,” she wrote.
“As long as our concerns and the substantial lack of clarity and concrete detail on a workable ‘neutrality’ model are not addressed, we do not agree that Russian and Belarusian athletes should be allowed back into competition.
“Noting the IOC’s stated position that no final decisions have been made, we have strongly urged the IOC to address the questions identified by all countries and reconsider its proposal accordingly.
“As an Olympic Partner, I would welcome your views on this matter and ask you to join us in pressing the IOC to address the concerns raised in our statement.”
Russia and Belarus have been frozen out of almost all international sports competitions since the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s troops last year.
The UK government has staged several summits of sports ministers in support of sanctions, including one last month which saw 36 countries reaffirm their support for the ban.
It also leaned on Wimbledon organisers the AELTC and the Lawn Tennis Association to apply a similar ban at British tournaments last summer.
Olympic chiefs in January opened the door for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to the international arena, saying it would “explore a pathway” for them to compete in Paris next year.
British tennis chiefs, meanwhile, have come under mounting pressure from the men’s and women’s tours to lift their ban for the 2023 grass court season.