Moldova warns athletes not to compete in Russia without permission

By Alexander Tanas

CHISINAU (Reuters) - Officials in Moldova, a fierce critic of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, pledged on Thursday to crack down on athletes and cultural figures who have travelled to Russia to compete or perform without official permission.

The warnings were issued after six athletes from the ex-Soviet state took part in the BRICS Games - a sports event for member-states of the economic grouping of nations - in the central Russian city of Kazan.

Moldova's National Olympic Committee said it was up to sports federations to take action to prevent their athletes from taking part in competitions violating international rules.

The committee said it upheld the Olympic movement's efforts "in terms of holding sports competitions on the territory of the aggressor state, Russia.

"We support the efforts of the International Olympic Committee and the international sports federations in observing the principles of Olympism and we oppose the use of sport and athletes for political goals."

Russia and Belarus are barred from the forthcoming Paris Olympic Games, though a number of their competitors are being allowed to compete as "neutrals".

Six Moldovans took part in the event in Kazan, in judo, artistic gymnastics, sambo wrestling and belt wrestling. The education ministry, responsible for sport, said the athletes had received no permission to attend and it was demanding explanations.

Earlier this month, four dancers from Joc, a Moldovan folk dancing group celebrated from Soviet times, attended an economic forum in St Petersburg addressed by Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin.

The dancers were photographed performing a hora folk dance along with fugitive pro-Russian Moldovan business magnate Ilan Shor, who was sentenced last year by a Moldovan court to 15 years in jail in absentia for mass fraud.

The group's director was removed pending an investigation into the incident.

Shor's "Victory" election bloc is campaigning against a referendum called by President Maia Sandu asking Moldovans whether they want their nation to join the European Union.

"We need more discernment and pride," Moldova's parliament speaker Igor Grosu said of the two incidents. "You can work your entire life to build up an image and have it completely wiped away by a single action."

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Editing by Ronald Popeski and Jamie Freed)