HONG KONG: China wants to work with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to oppose the politicisation of sports, Premier Li Qiang said, amid demands on the sporting body to exclude athletes from Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. Premier Li made the comments at a meeting with IOC head Thomas Bach in Beijing over the weekend, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. Li’s comments come with the IOC under immense pressure from 35 governments, including the United States, Britain and France, to exclude athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus because of the war. The IOC said in January it was open to including the athletes from the two countries in the Olympics as neutrals and suggested Asia as a possible qualifying pathway to circumvent bans from European regional competitions. The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) has already offered to let Russian and Belarusian athletes compete at the Asian Games in China this year. “Li said that China is willing to work together with the IOC to oppose the politicisation of sports and to make greater contribution to the Olympic movement,” Xinhua reported. Bach said China plays an important role in maintaining world peace and promoting mutual development and IOC is willing to strengthen cooperation with China to promote the development of the Olympic movement. Xinhua gave no specific details on what points Li raised with Bach. Countries including Canada, the United States and Britain held a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympic games in Beijing last year over concerns about China’s human rights. China at the time called the boycotts “political posturing” and a smear campaign. Beijing has also been angered by the playing of a Hong Kong protest-linked song at some events including the World Ice Hockey championships in Bosnia in February and the Asian Rugby Seven series tournament in Incheon last November. Hong Kong’s government said it deplored the playing of the incorrect song and has since issued a set of guidelines to sports teams in the city to ensure the right anthem is played.