Russian and Belarusian athletes have, on Thursday, March 3, 2022, been banned from the ongoing Beijing Winter Paralympics due to the war in Ukraine with organisers bowing to international pressure and threats of a boycott.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) just a day earlier, said athletes from the two countries would be allowed to compete as “neutrals” in the Games, which start on Friday, March 4, 2022. It said that was the “harshest punishment” the IPC could dish out under its rules.
But organisers reversed that decision less than 24 hours later, suggesting that all 83 competing athletes from Russia and Belarus- which hosted troops for Moscow’s attack, will now be packing their bags and heading home.
IPC President, Andrew Parsons, disclosed the body underestimated the negative reaction to letting Russians and Belarusians compete, even as neutral athletes. The Athletes Village, which Parsons hoped would be a place of harmony, he now depicted as a tinderbox.
“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 and NPC Belarus.”IPC noted in a statement
Parson, in an interview noted that “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. You are victims of your governments’ actions.”
“No one is happy with the decision but certainly this is the best decision for the Paralympic Games to go ahead.”IPC President, Andrew Parsons
Effect of Russian and Belarusian athletes
The IPC has now joined sports such as football, track, basketball, hockey and others that have imposed blanket bans on Russians and Belarusians.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) earlier this week urged sporting federations across the world to exclude athletes from the two countries. Organisers disclosed that multiple Paralympics committees around the world, teams and athletes threatened not to compete; according to them, the presence of the Russian and Belarusian athletes was “jeopardising the viability” of the Games.
“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.”IPC noted in a statement
Parsons stated that he expects the two countries to take legal action against the decision.
“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.”IPC President, Andrew Parsons
A different turn of events
The previous decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete drew a swift backlash on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Germany’s top Paralympic official said the decision lacked courage.
The country’s Paralympic Committee President, Friedhelm Julius Beucher said “It’s a dark day for the Paralympic movement.”
According to the Russian Paralympic Committee, it reserved the right to appeal the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, calling it “unreasonable”, according to state media. The IPC said the measure affected 83 athletes from Russia and Belarus.
Athletes from Ukraine arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, after a gruelling and logistically challenging journey from their homeland, which has faced a full-scale invasion from Russia. The Russian invasion has by far, sent more than one million Ukrainians to neighbouring countries.
Earlier on Thursday, March 3, 2022, Ukraine’s biathlon team members prepared for their competition, hitting the slopes for skiing and shooting training in Zhangjiakou.
The small Eastern European country has punched above its weight in previous Paralympic winter events, with frequent podium finishes in the biathlon and skiing competitions. The past delegation took home 22 medals in 2018, including seven golds and gained the sixth spot on the world tally.
For some of the team, the emotional rollercoaster and disrupted focus will be a major cause. When the Russia hosted the Winter Paralympics in 2014, Ukrainian athletes grappled with Moscow’s takeover of the Crimean peninsula.
The Paralympics in Beijing, which follows the Winter Olympics, is expected to finish on March 13, 2022.