Russia and Belarus banned from Winter Paralympics in dramatic U-turn

3 March 2022, 11:56

Andrew Parsons (left) of the International Paralympic Committee announced the change on Thursday
Andrew Parsons (left) of the International Paralympic Committee announced the change on Thursday. Picture: Getty

By Daisy Stephens

Russian and Belarusian athletes will be banned from the Beijing Winter Paralympics in a dramatic U-turn by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

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The IPC originally said on Wednesday that athletes from those countries would be allowed to compete under a neutral flag - but the decision was met with criticism and the threat of a boycott.

Then in a statement on Thursday morning, IPC president Andrew Parsons said 83 athletes would be unable to compete due to the threat of widespread withdrawals from other countries as well as concerns about safety.

In the statement, he said the participants from affected countries were "victims of [their] governments' actions" and apologised to them for the ban.

The games begin on Friday.

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"In taking our decision yesterday, we were looking at the long-term health and survival of the Paralympic Movement," said Mr Parsons.

"We are fiercely proud of the principles and values that have made the Movement what it is today.

"However, what is clear is that the rapidly escalating situation has now put us in a unique and impossible position so close to the start of the Games. Yesterday we said we would continue to listen, and that is what we are doing."

The situation in the athletes village, Mr Parsons said, had "become untenable".

He said: "In the last 12 hours, an overwhelming number of members have been in touch with us and been very open, for which I am grateful. They have told us that, if we do not reconsider our decision, it is now likely to have grave consequences for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.

"Multiple NPCs (National Paralympic Committees), some of which have been contacted by their governments, teams and athletes, are threatening not to compete.

"Ensuring the safety and security of athletes is of paramount importance to us and the situation in the athlete villages is escalating and has now become untenable."

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Parsons apologised to athletes from Russia and Belarus, saying: "First and foremost, we have a duty as part of the Paralympic mission, enshrined in the constitution, to guarantee and supervise the organisation of successful Paralympic Games, to ensure that, in sport practised within the Paralympic Movement, the spirit of fair play prevails, violence is banned, the health risk of the athletes is managed and fundamental ethical principles are upheld.

"With this in mind, and in order to preserve the integrity of these Games and the safety of all participants, we have decided to refuse the athlete entries from RPC (Russian Paralympic Committee) and NPC Belarus."

Directly addressing participants from affected countries, he said: "You are victims of your governments' actions."

He added: "We are very sorry that you are affected by the decisions your governments took last week in breaching the Olympic Truce."

He went on: "I hope and pray that we can get back to a situation when the talk and focus is fully on the power of sport to transform the lives of persons with disabilities, and the best of humanity."

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries criticised the IPC's initial decision on Wednesday and said the British Paralympic team should look at the "full range of options" open to them to protest against it.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has been contacted for comment, along with the British Paralympic Association (BPA).

The BPA had reiterated its view on Wednesday that allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete was not "compatible with the objectives of the Paralympic movement".

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IPC president Parsons said on Wednesday that any decision to suspend the Russian and Belarusian Paralympic Committees would have been overturned under German law, which governs the actions of the international federation.

However, the sheer weight of pressure from other NPCs threatening to boycott has now forced a change of approach.

The International Olympic Committee's executive board recommended international sports federations and event organisers should exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes, teams and officials "wherever possible".

Where this was not possible, the IOC board suggested such athletes compete as neutrals.