IPC reverses decision to allow Russia and Belarus athletes to compete in Paralympics

International Paralympic Committee had earlier allowed athletes from the countries to compete in Beijing Games as 'neutrals'

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Russian and Belarusian athletes have been barred from competing in the Beijing Winter Paralympic Games, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced on Thursday.

The decision comes a day after IPC said it would allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete when the Games begin on Friday, but only as neutral athletes with colours, flags and other national symbols removed.

"Following a specially convened meeting, the IPC Governing Board has decided to refuse the athlete entries from the RPC and NPC Belarus for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games," the IPC said in a statement.

"This means that para athletes from these respective countries will no longer be allowed to participate in the Games, which open on March 4, 2022.

"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."

Russia's military action in Ukraine has seen major sports bodies across the glob stop its athletes, clubs and national teams from competitions until further notice.

The IPC’s announcement on Wednesday was met by criticism and the threat of a boycott.

In a statement on Thursday morning, 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.”

“In the last 12 hours, an overwhelming number of members have been in touch with us. 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.”

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 athletes village, Parsons said, had “become untenable”.

The International Olympic Committee on Monday urged sports bodies to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes from international events, but it left the final decision to individual governing bodies.

Parsons apologised to athletes from Russia and Belarus, saying: “First and foremost, we have a duty as part of the Paralympic mission, enshrined in the constitution, to guarantee and supervise the organisation of successful Paralympic Games, to ensure that, in sport practised 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 RPC (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 is fully on the power of sport to transform the lives of persons with disabilities, and the best of humanity.”

Athletes from Ukraine arrived in Beijing on Wednesday after a gruelling and logistically challenging journey from their homeland which has faced a full-scale invasion from Russia.

More than half a million Ukrainians have fled to neighbouring countries.

The small Eastern European country has punched above its weight in previous Paralympic winter events, with frequent podium finishes in the biathlon and ski competitions.

Ukraine took home 22 medals in 2018 - including seven golds.

For some of the team, the emotional rollercoaster and disrupted focus will be a case of deja vu.

During Russia's hosting of the Winter Paralympics in 2014, Ukrainian athletes had to grapple with Moscow's takeover of the Crimea peninsula.

Updated: March 03, 2022, 9:25 AM