Winter Paralympics 2022: Russia and Belarus athletes unable to compete at Games

Athletes from Russia and Belarus will not be allowed to compete at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing after the International Paralympic Committee reversed its original decision.

The IPC was heavily criticised when, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it initially said it would allow the athletes to compete as neutrals.

A statement said the “situation in the athlete villages” was “untenable”.

The Games’ opening ceremony takes place on Friday.

IPC president Andrew Parsons said an “overwhelming number of members” had told his organisation they would not compete should athletes from Russia and Belarus be allowed to take part.

Parsons described the Russian and Belarusian athletes affected as “victims of your governments’ actions”.

“We are very firm believers that sport and politics should not mix,” Parsons added.

“However, by no fault of its own the war has now come to these Games and behind the scenes many governments are having an influence on our cherished event.

“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.”

Valeriy Sushkevych, the Ukrainian Paralympic chief, said his team’s presence at the Games is a “symbol that Ukraine is alive”.

Russia have said they will go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to appeal against the decision, sports minister Oleg Matytsin telling Tass news agency the decision was “a blatant violation of athletes’ rights and a manipulation of the Olympic Charter”.

There were set to be 71 competitors from Russia and 12 from Belarus – plus guides for both nations – competing in Beijing.

Parsons said the decision to prevent the athletes competing would “preserve the integrity” of the Games and “the safety of all participants”.

On Wednesday, a number of governing bodies and political figures criticised the IPC for not immediately banning Russian and Belarusian athletes.

A joint statement from the athletes of Ukraine and the Global Athlete group, an international athlete-led body that aims to inspire change in world sport, said the IPC had issued “another blow” to every Ukrainian athlete and citizen with its decision.

Ukrainian Olympic skeleton racer Vladyslav Heraskevych, speaking before the IPC reversed its decision, described the situation as “disgusting”.

“They put Russia above the interest of other countries,” said Heraskevych, who displayed an anti-war sign during the Beijing Games in February.

“Anything less than a full ban is unacceptable. It’s sad and heartbreaking.”

Nadine Dorries, UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said she was “very pleased” the IPC had changed its ruling after calling for it to “urgently reconsider”.

Dorries added: “The welfare of all the other competing athletes is of upmost importance and we’re pleased the IPC also recognise that.”

Professor Nick Webborn, chair of British Paralympic Association, said the IPC’s decision on Thursday was the right one.

Asked if the ParalympicsGB team would have boycotted the Games, Webborn told Radio 4: “That was one potential scenario but something that we would not wish to exercise because our athletes deserve the right to be here.

“We would not want to remove that opportunity for them if we could possibly help it.”

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Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who won 11 Paralympic gold medals for Great Britain in the summer Games, said she felt sympathy for the athletes on an individual level.

“Life in Russia for a disabled person is incredibly hard and most of the athletes are only funded on the medals that they win,” she told BBC Breakfast.

“If they are not able to get any funding, it affects not only their ability to do sport, but also their lives. It is hard, but we cannot keep pretending sport and politics aren’t linked.”

Parsons said it was unlikely a viable Games could take place should Russian and Belarusian athletes be allowed to compete.

“To the Para-athletes from the impacted countries, we are very sorry that you are affected by the decisions your governments took last week in breaching the Olympic Truce,” he added.

“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.”

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