Russia and Belarus athletes to compete as neutrals at Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing

International Paralympic Committee met on Wednesday to decide on Russian and Belarusian competitors' participation ahead of the Games, which begin on Friday

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Russian and Belarusian athletes have been given permission to compete as "neutrals" at the Paralympic Games in Beijing despite Russia's military operations in Ukraine.

The International Paralympic Committee met on Wednesday to decide on Russia and Belarusian athletes' participation ahead of the Games, which begin on Friday. They will run from March 4-13.

Russian athletes had already been slated to compete as RPC, short for Russian Paralympic Committee, as punishment for the state-sponsored doping scandal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and a subsequent cover-up.

Belarus was sanctioned for its part in aiding Russia in the conflict in Ukraine.

“The RPC [Russian Paralympic Committee] and NPC Belarus will participate as neutrals at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games,” an IPC statement read.

“They will compete under the Paralympic flag and not be included in the medal table.”

IPC president Andrew Parsons defended the decision, saying his organisation had meted out "the harshest possible punishment we can" within IPC rules.

"In deciding what actions the IPC should take, it was fundamental that we worked within the framework of our new constitution to remain politically neutral and within the IPC Handbook, the rules and regulations that govern the Paralympic Movement," Parsons added.

Athletes from Russia and Belarus will compete under the Paralympic flag and the Paralympic anthem. The RPC delegation must cover the “RPC” symbol on uniforms in all events and ceremonies. The Belarus delegation must cover its national flag on uniforms.

Paralympic officials say 648 athletes and 49 delegations will take part in the Winter Paralympics. Officials say 71 Russian athletes are expected to compete, and 20 from Ukraine. The entire Ukrainian delegation was expected to arrive in time for Friday's opening ceremony.

The IPC said it would also withdraw the “Paralympic Honour” given to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It is the third honorary title rescinded from Putin in the past week after World Taekwondo and the International Judo Federation stripped him of similar designations over the situation in Ukraine.

The International Olympic Committee executive board issued a recommendation on Monday to international sports federations and event organisers to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes until further notice and “wherever possible”.

The statement from the IOC did recognise the difficulties facing the IPC, with the Games starting just over a week after Russia launched its military operations in Ukraine, aided and abetted by Belarus.

The IOC said on Monday that where a complete ban was not possible, athletes from those countries should compete as neutrals.

It anticipated that the IPC may not even be able to go that far and accepted some event organisers would have to “find their own way”.

A group of Ukrainian athletes wrote an open letter to the International Olympic Committee and the IPC on Sunday calling for Russian and Belarusian competitors to be banned.

The IPC said it would not hold any events in Russia or Belarus until further notice.

The decision not to completely bar Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing is likely to draw criticism and raises the possibility of athletes from other countries boycotting the Games or staging protests.

More broadly, the IPC's decision reflects the conundrum sports faces in trying to sanction Moscow and Minsk while also treading a tightrope of not overtly punishing athletes from those countries.

A number of sports federations, including world football's governing body, Fifa, kicked Russia out of the 2022 World Cup qualifying play-offs on March 24 with Poland, Czech Republic and Sweden - who were all in the same qualifying route as Russia - refusing to play their opponents.

Uefa, the body that governs European football, simultaneously banned all Russian and Belarusian clubs, national teams and officials from its competitions.

Likewise, the International Tennis Federation has suspended those countries from membership and team competitions, but individual players are still competing on the men’s and women’s professional tours.

World Rugby suspended Russia and Belarus from all international rugby "until further notice" on Tuesday, while the Badminton World Federation also cancelled all sanctioned tournaments in those countries and ordered their flags and anthems banned from all BWF tournaments.

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem said his organisation condemned Russia's military offensive in Ukraine but said Russian and Belarusian drivers could still take part in its competitions as neutrals.

World motorsport's governing body said the participation of any Russian and Belarusian drivers, individual competitors and officials, even in a neutral capacity, was subject to a "specific commitment and adherence to the FIA’s principles of peace and political neutrality".

Updated: March 02, 2022, 4:38 PM