Source: The Guardian
Russian and Belarusian athletes will be banned from the Beijing Winter Paralympics after the International Paralympic Committee reversed its original decision.
The IPC’s announcement on Wednesday that athletes from those countries would be allowed to compete under a neutral flag despite the Russian invasion of Ukraine was met by criticism and the threat of a boycott.
"...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."
Russia unleashed a three-pronged invasion of Ukraine from the north, east and south on 24 February, just days after the Winter Olympics ended.
In a statement on Thursday morning, the IPC president, Andrew Parsons, said: “In taking our decision yesterday, we were looking at the long-term health and survival of the Paralympic movement. 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.”
Parsons said 83 athletes would now be unable to compete, but the decision was taken because of the threat of widespread withdrawals from other countries as well as concerns about safety. The situation in the athlete's village, Parsons said, had “become untenable”.
“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,” he said.
“Multiple 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.”
Parsons apologized to athletes from Russia and Belarus: “First and foremost, we have a duty as part of the Paralympic mission, enshrined in the constitution, to guarantee and supervise the organization of successful Paralympic Games, to ensure that, in sport practiced 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 the Russian Paralympic Committee and NPC Belarus. 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.
“I hope and pray that we can get back to a situation when the talk and focus are fully on the power of sport to transform the lives of persons with disabilities, and the best of humanity.”
The UK culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, who had criticized the initial decision, tweeted on Thursday morning: “Very pleased that the IPC has now come to the right decision, and answered our call to ban Russian and Belarus athletes in response to Putin’s barbaric, senseless invasion.
“The welfare of all the other competing athletes is of utmost importance and we’re pleased the IPC also recognizes that. The whole country will be fully behind our ParalympicsGB team at the Games.
“I’ll be discussing the international sporting response and further measures we can take to isolate the Russian regime with my international counterparts later today.”