LONDON: Olympic chiefs have urged the British government to respect the “autonomy of sport” after an attempt to lobby sponsors against a proposed pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate at next year’s Paris Games. Britain’s Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer last week wrote a letter to 13 of the biggest Olympic sponsors, urging them to put pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to abandon its proposal. “It is not up to governments to decide which athletes can participate in which international competitions. This would be the end of world sport as we know it today,” the IOC said on Monday. “We hope very much that the British government will respect the autonomy of sport … 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.” The IOC issued sanctions against Russia and Belarus after last year’s invasion of Ukraine but is reluctant to exclude their athletes from the Olympics entirely for fear of a return to the boycotts of the Cold War era. They set out a pathway in January for competitors from Russia and its ally Belarus to earn Olympic slots through Asian qualifying and to compete as neutral athletes in Paris. Neutral athletes are not considered to be representing their nations and their successes are not accompanied by the flying of flags or playing of national anthems. The British government issued a joint statement last month with 34 other nations reiterating a call on the IOC to issue a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from its competitions. Ukraine has threatened to boycott the Paris Olympics if athletes from Russia and Belarus compete.