Russian and Belarusian athletes are now banned from the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, the International Paralympic Committee announced Thursday, a day after the group sparked widespread criticism and threats of boycotts from other competitors following its decision to allow athletes from those countries to compete under a neutral flag despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Many teams threatened to boycott the Games if Russian and Belarusian athletes competed.
The number of athletes, teams and national Paralympic committees threatening to boycott the Games over Russian and Belarusian involvement was jeopardizing the “viability” of the Games, IPC president Andrew Parsons said in a statement explaining the u-turn.
The “situation in the athlete villages is escalating” and has become “untenable,” putting the IPC in a “unique and impossible position” close to the Games’ launch on Friday, he added.
Some 83 Para athletes from Russia and Belarus, in addition to a number of guides for each country, are directly impacted by the decision.
Parsons apologized to the affected athletes, who he described as “victims” of their governments’ actions.
“At the IPC we are very firm believers that sport and politics should not mix,” Parsons said. “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,” noting that multiple national Paralympics groups had been “contacted by their governments” to boycott the event.
On Wednesday, the IPC said Russian and Belarusian athletes would still compete in Beijing but would do so as neutral athletes under the Paralympic flag. At the time, Parsons said the measures were the “harshest possible punishment” the organization could mete out in line with its constitution, which includes a commitment to running a successful Games and ensuring the sport is played fairly and in the spirit of the Paralympic Movement, which prohibits violence. The criticism and threats to boycott the event in response to the decision were swift and scathing. A joint statement from Ukrainian athletes said the IPC’s decision was “another blow” to Ukraine’s athletes and citizens, while U.K. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries slammed Wednesday’s decision and called on the IPC to “urgently reconsider.” The u-turn has extended the wide-reaching shunning of Russia—and Belarus, to a lesser extent—on the international sporting stage, where its teams have been banned from contests in sports including basketball, soccer and hockey. The International Olympic Committee urged all sports bodies to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from international contests following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, though did permit athletes to compete neutrally if participation could not be avoided, for example legal or logistical reasons.
Russia has even been barred from digital sporting events. Electronic Arts announced it was removing Russian national teams and the nation’s professional clubs from some of its popular sporting games including NHL and FIFA in “solidarity with the Ukrainian people.”
What To Watch For
The Paralympic Games. The opening ceremony is set to take place on Friday and is slated to promote “a message of peace.” Ukraine has sent its entire delegation—20 athletes and nine guides—to the Games and the IPC confirmed their safe arrival in Beijing on Wednesday.
Senior Chinese officials reportedly had some degree of direct knowledge about Russia’s military plans before it launched its invasion on Ukraine last week, according to the New York Times, citing a Western intelligence report. According to the report, Chinese officials asked their Russian counterparts to delay any invasion until after the Winter Olympics had finished.