BEIJING (Reuters) -Russian and Belarusian athletes can compete as neutrals at the Winter Paralympics in Beijing, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said on Wednesday, despite widespread 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 https://www.paralympic.org/press-release/ipc-makes-decisions-regarding-rpc-and-npc-belarus.
“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, said the IPC issued “another blow” to every Ukrainian athlete and citizen.
“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.”
Germany’s chef de mission Karl Quade, a member of the Paralympic movement since the IPC was founded in 1989, said he was “deeply ashamed” by the decision.
The Swiss Paralympic Committee said it could not comprehend the reasons for allowing the athletes to compete.
“The fact that legal considerations were given priority over moral and political arguments is a major burden for the credibility of the Paralympic movement,” it said in a statement.
Britain condemned the IPC’s decision, with UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who is responsible for sport, saying she would consult with sports bodies on how best to protest this decision.
“They (the IPC) must join the rest of the world in condemning this barbaric invasion by banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing,” Dorries said in a statement.
The Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) said it supported the sanctions imposed by the IPC but would have liked Russia and Belarus to be expelled immediately.
“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 CPC said.
The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee said it was disappointed with the outcome as it “excuses Russia’s disregard for not only the Olympic truce, but also for the victims of a senseless war”.
The IOC last week said the Russian government had breached the Olympic Truce, which aims to harness the power of sport to promote peace and dialogue.
MORE SANCTIONS UPON RUSSIA, BELARUS BY IPC
The IPC added it 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 soccer’s world governing body FIFA and European ruling body UEFA, have banned teams and athletes from the two countries, and 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 March 4-13.
While the IPC hasn’t spoken to Ukrainian athletes since the decision, Parsons insisted they were here to compete.
“These athletes have fought the battle of their lives to be here… this is a difficult moment in the history of the nation and they want to make everyone proud,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Manasi Pathak and Aadi Nair in Bengaluru; editing by John Stonestreet, Christian Radnedge and Ed Osmond)