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Russia, Belarus athletes barred from Paralympics after boycott threats, safety concerns

Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics - Previews

BEIJING, CHINA - MARCH 01: General view of the center ice logo in the National Indoor Stadium ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics on March 01, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

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Russian and Belarusian athletes were barred from the Paralympics after the International Paralympic Committee said athletes from many other nations vowed to not compete if they remained in the Games.

The IPC also said ensuring safety at the athletes’ village was becoming untenable after an earlier decision to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes. The Games open Friday.

“We are also firm believers that sport and politics should not mix,” IPC President Andrew Parsons said. “However, it is clear that maybe now, due to the current situation, that is no longer possible. The war has now come to these Games, and behind the scenes, many governments are having an influence on our cherished event.

“A rapidly escalating situation has now put us in a unique and impossible situation so close to the start of the Games.”

The IPC reversed a decision from 20 hours earlier that allowed Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutrals without their national flags, symbols and anthems. Russians were previously set to compete as members of the Russian Paralympic Committee, without their flag and anthem due to the nation’s previous sanctions for doping.

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In explaining their initial decision, the IPC anticipated that if the athletes were barred, a legal appeal to get them back in would be successful based on the IPC’s rulebook.

After the initial decision, Parsons said that “a really high number” of National Paralympic Committees (NPCs) said at least some of their athletes would not compete in the Games if Russians and Belarusians were allowed to compete, even as neutrals.

“What we’ve seen in the 14 hours since is a move from letters [from NPCs] of ‘We think you should ban,’ to now, ‘We’re thinking of going home. We’re not playing,’” IPC spokesperson Craig Spence said. “That’s a huge change. If we don’t act on that, then we’re crazy.

“If we didn’t pivot on today’s decision, we’d probably be talking to you in two days’ time about the fact that there’s not enough athletes here to do the Games.”

Parsons said he spoke with National Paralympic Committees’ chefs de mission on Thursday morning. Wheelchair curling teams and sled hockey teams were refusing to play. The first games in those sports are Saturday, the day after the Opening Ceremony.

Parsons also said that the athletes’ village “was becoming a very volatile environment” after the initial decision to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutrals, though there were no reports of aggression.

“There was a level of animosity that, of course, was absolutely counter-productive to what, first of all, we want to have here, which is a fair competition between athletes from different nations,” Parsons said. “The athletes’ reactions showed us that if we did not take action, the situation could get worse.”

The IPC is working to get the Russian and Belarusian athletes travel arrangements to return home.

“To the Para athletes from the impacted countries, we are very sorry that you are affected by the decision that your government took last week in breaching the Olympic Truce,” Parsons said, noting the tradition of nations agreeing to peace through the Olympics and Paralympics. “You are victims of your government’s actions.”

Russian sports minister Oleg Matytsin said Russia is drafting an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport before the Opening Ceremony, according to Russian news agency TASS.

The Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) called the ban “completely unfounded.”

“It clearly contradicts one of the basic principles of the Paralympic family -- the apolitical nature of sport for the disabled,” it said in a statement. “In accordance with this decision the RPC and Russian Para athletes appear as the perpetrators of the current political conflicts. ... They have not done anything that in any way can be interpreted as participation in the current political complications.”

In a statement, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said it strongly supported the IPC’s decision to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes.

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