In a stunning reversal, Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from the Winter Paralympic Games for their countries’ roles in the war in Ukraine, the International Paralympic Committee said Thursday in Beijing.
The about-face comes less than 24 hours after the IPC on Wednesday announced it would allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete when the Games open on Friday, but only as neutral athletes with colors, flags and other national symbols removed.
The IPC received immediate criticism for its initial decision. It was termed a betrayal that sent the wrong message to Russia’s leadership. The IPC also said it was evident that many athletes would refuse to compete against Russians or Belarusians, creating chaos for the Paralympics and damaging the reputation.
IPC President Andrew Parsons, in announcing the initial measures Wednesday in a Beijing news conference, sympathized openly with the Ukrainian people but said his actions were constrained by his organization’s rules and the fear of legal action.
Parsons said almost the opposite in announcing his reversal, noting his constituents had pushed back.
“In the last 12 hours, an overwhelming number of members have been in touch with us,” Parsons said in a statement. “They have told us that if we do not reconsider our decision, it is now likely to have grave consequences.”
Parsons added: “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.”
The IPC now joins sports like soccer, track, basketball, hockey, and others that have imposed blanket bans on Russians and Belarussians.
The International Olympic Committee on Monday pushed sports bodies to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes from international events, but it left the final decision to individual governing bodies.
The IOC has been slow to crack down on Russia, allowing its athletes to compete in the last four Olympics following a state-sponsored doping scandal and coverup in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Russia was expected to have 71 athletes competing in Beijing. It was not immediately clear how many Belarussian athletes were involved. Ukraine has said it would have 20.
The Winter Paralympics open on Friday and close on March 13.
Parsons also addressed the Russian and Belarusian athletes.
“To 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.”