Paralympics chiefs have run into an emotive international backlash after their decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at the Winter Games.
- The IPC has decided that Russian and Belarusian athletes can compete as ‘neutrals’ at the Beijing Winter Paralympics
- Ukrainian athletes have responded with fierce criticism of the decision amid the ongoing Russian invasion
- IPC president Andrew Parsons was confronted at a press conference with the picture of a Ukrainian biathlete who died in military action in his country
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) decided on Wednesday to go against the widespread demands that the two countries’ Paralympians be banned from the Beijing Games following Russia’s Belarusian-aided invasion of Ukraine.
Instead, the IPC decided they could still take part under the Paralympic flag as “neutral” athletes while not being included in the official medal table.
But the rulings were swiftly condemned by angry Ukrainian athletes and national Paralympic bodies as being a weak and “wrong” response to the growing crisis.
The most heart-rending response came in Beijing just hours after the announcement.
A reporter from the Kyiv Post newspaper asked IPC president Andrew Parsons at a news conference what he would say to the family of 19-year-old Ukrainian biathlete Yevhen Malyshev, who had just died in military action.
“I cannot even start to imagine the pain that his family is feeling at the moment,” Parsons said after the reporter held up Malyshev’s picture to show him.
Yet Brazilian Parsons also defended the decision not to expel Russian and Belarusian athletes, saying that the rules of the IPC did not allow it and that the Bonn-based organisation would have any expulsion “overturned in the German court of law.”
There was a furious response to the decision in a statement from a group of Ukrainian athletes in conjunction with reform group Global Athlete.
“Yevhen Malyshev was killed in combat in Ukraine, defending his country against Russia’s attack. How many more lives need to be lost before sport implements meaningful sanctions?” the statement said.
“With or without a neutral label, the Russian and Belarusian authorities will use their athletes’ participation in these Games as state propaganda.
“Lives are being lost, families are being torn apart and tears flow for the Ukrainian nation.
Paralympics Australia had been among many national organisations wanting to see a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes.
Jock O’Callaghan, president of Paralympics Australia, had said in a statement on Wednesday: “We cannot ignore the humanitarian crisis before us.
“We oppose these hostilities and join the growing number of sporting institutions from across the globe, including within the Paralympic family, who are calling for an immediate ban on Russian and Belarusian participation at all sporting events.”
Britain was the first country to hit out at the IPC rulings, with UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries saying she was “extremely disappointed in the IPC”, who she said had made the wrong decision.
“I call on them to urgently reconsider.
The US Olympic & Paralympic Committee also declared its disappointment while the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) said it would have liked Russia and Belarus to be expelled but understood it was not possible because of the legal problems.
Most of the Russian athletes were already in Beijing for the Games which begin on Friday while the 20-strong Ukrainian team, accompanied by nine guides, arrived on Wednesday.