BEIJING: Russian and Belarusian athletes can compete as neutrals at the Winter Paralympics in Beijing, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said on Wednesday (Mar 2), despite calls to ban them following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for which Belarus has been a key staging area.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) this week recommended that sports federations suspend teams and athletes from the two countries but added that they could compete as neutrals if time or legal constraints prevented their removal.
“They will compete under the Paralympic flag and not be included in the medal table,” the IPC said in a statement.
“In deciding what action to take, the Board was guided by the IPC’s core principles, which include a commitment to political neutrality and impartiality, and an unwavering belief in the transformative power of sport.
“These are key components of the new IPC Constitution that was approved at the 2021 IPC General Assembly held just over three months ago.”
Russian athletes were already set to compete under the Russian Paralympic Committee banner as part of sanctions imposed for a state-sponsored doping programme.
Russia and Belarus will participate as Neutral Paralympic Athletes and Paralympic Neutral Athletes, respectively.
IPC president Andrew Parsons said that while Russia had launched the attack on Ukraine, the athletes were not the aggressors.
“It’s important to make that distinction … they are not soldiers and we need to treat them with respect just like the others who have earned the right to be here,” he told reporters.
“We do recognise the seriousness and magnitude of the situation but we just tried to follow the rules and separate politics from sport.”
IPC DECISION SPARKS CRITICISM
A joint statement from the athletes of Ukraine and Global Athlete group, an international athlete-led pressure body that aims to inspire change in world sport, said the IPC issued “another blow” to every Ukrainian athlete and citizen with its decision.
“The demands of the athletes have been cast aside in favour of Russian interests,” the statement said.
“Sports administrators are choosing bloodshed and profits over principle and stakeholders.”
“With or without a neutral label, the Russian and Belarusian athletes will use their athlete’s participation in the Games as state propaganda,” the statement added.
Britain condemned the IPC’s decision, with UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who is responsible for sport, saying she would consult with British sports bodies on how best to protest this decision.
“I am extremely disappointed in the IPC – this is the wrong decision and I call on them to urgently reconsider,” Dorries said in a statement.
“They must join the rest of the world in condemning this barbaric invasion by banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing.
“We will consider the full range of options in protest of this decision, in consultation with UK Sport and the British Paralympic Association. I will also be meeting with my international counterparts this week to discuss how we can respond collectively.”
The Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) said it supported the sanctions imposed by the IPC but would have liked Russia and Belarus to be expelled.
“We would have liked the two countries expelled immediately, but due to legal constraints this is not possible,” the CPC said.
“Consequently, in accordance with our previous position, the Canadian Paralympic Committee awaits for a special general assembly to be called as soon as possible whereby IPC members will review the membership status of Russia and Belarus within the IPC.”
The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee said it was disappointed with the outcome.
“… while we can empathise with the difficulty of this decision and the IPC’s desire to protect the athletes’ rights to compete, we are disappointed in this outcome as it excuses Russia’s disregard for not only the Olympic truce, but also for the victims of a senseless war,” the USOPC said.
The IOC last week said the Russian government had breached the Olympic Truce that is currently in effect and which aims to harness the power of sport to promote peace and dialogue.
MORE SANCTIONS UPON RUSSIA, BELARUS BY IPC
The IPC added they would not host any events in Russia and Belarus, including World and European Championships, until further notice and urged other international and regional para federations to follow a similar approach.
A number of sports federations, including world football governing body FIFA and European football governing body UEFA, have banned teams and athletes from the two countries, and also stripped them of key events such as this season’s Champions League final.
“Given the time constraints … the IPC Governing Board will reconvene after the Games to further discuss this matter and any additional action that may be required,” the statement added.
The 20-member Ukrainian contingent, accompanied by nine guides, arrived in Beijing on Wednesday following initial fears they may not be able to make it in time for the Games, which run from Mar 4 to Mar 13.