(Reuters) – Russia’s sports minister was quoted as saying on Saturday that his country’s athletes – mostly barred from the Paris Olympics – would soon take part in more competitions because international fixtures were suffering from their absence.

“I am sure that the number of competitions in which our athletes take part will soon be on the rise,” Interfax news agency quoted Mikhail Degtyarev as saying after a meeting of sports ministers alongside the BRICS Games – a sporting event featuring competitors from member-states of the economic grouping.

“Fans and athletes from other countries are demanding this. From 2020 to 2023, our athletes took part in 8,000 international sports events. We can see how much the entertainment value and the effectiveness of international tournaments have declined without Russian athletes.”

Degtaryev said world sport “is losing from the fact that our athletes are unable to represent a national team. This process will end sooner or later. It’s inevitable. It’s damaging world sport.”

Athletes from Russia and Belarus, Moscow’s closest ally in its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, are barred from representing their countries at the Paris Games.

A certain number, carefully vetted to ensure they have no connection to the military, are being allowed to compete as “neutrals”.

Russia has denounced the restrictions as discriminatory. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said the International Olympic Committee was slipping “into racism and neo-Nazism”.

This year’s annual edition of the BRICS Games took place in the central Russian city of Kazan.

(Reporting by Ron Popeski; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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