The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced today (March 2) that Russian and Belarusian athletes will be allowed to compete as neutrals in the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing, which begin on Friday (March 4) and run to March 13, despite the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia with Belarusian support.
The decision was made at a meeting of the IPC’s Governing Board this morning, at which it was discussed how the breach of the Olympic Truce by Russia and Belarus – through the invasion that began on February 24 – would impact the Beijing 2022 games and the wider Paralympic movement.
In a press release published after the meeting, the IPC said that its board had “expressed its concerns and sympathies for Ukrainian athletes and citizens alike”, shared “delight” that the Ukrainian Paralympic Team had arrived safely in Beijing, and was united in its condemnation of the Russian and Belarusian governments.
Its members were said to be “in agreement that the breach of the truce could not go unpunished”, and the IPC has said it has taken the strongest possible actions within the scope of its own rules – with suggestions in some quarters that throwing Belarusian and Russian athletes out of the Beijing event at this late date could be a move open to a successful legal challenge in Germany, where the IPC is based.
However, the immediate reaction from some organizations has been that the measures, outlined below, do not go far enough.
The steps taken by the IPC are as follows:
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- The Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) and National Paralympic Committee of Belarus (NPC Belarus) will participate as neutrals under the Paralympic flag, and will not be included in the medals table, while support personnel will also participate as neutrals, and the RPC symbol and Belarusian flag must not be shown on the respective uniforms.
- All technical officials from Russia and Belarus attending the games will be listed as neutrals under the Paralympic flag, as will coaches from the two countries involved with other teams.
- The above approaches will also be enacted in relation to the participation of the RPC and NPC Belarus in the 10 Para sports governed by the IPC.
- The IPC will not hold any events in Russia or Belarus until further notice, including World and European Championships, as well as all sanctioned-level competitions such as World Series, World Cups, and Grand Prix events.
- An extraordinary general assembly of the IPC will be held later in 2022 at which members will be invited to vote upon whether ensuring compliance with the Olympic Truce should be a membership requirement and whether to suspend or terminate the membership of the Russian Paralympic Committee and NPC Belarus.
- The Paralympic Honor awarded to Russian president Vladimir Putin has been withdrawn, as have similar honors given to a number of other personnel from Russia and Belarus.
- The IPC’s board will meet after the games to discuss whether any additional action(s) should be taken.
In announcing the measures, Andrew Parsons, president of the IPC, said: “The IPC and wider Paralympic movement is greatly concerned by the gross violation of the Olympic Truce by the Russian and Belarusian governments in the days prior to the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games. The IPC governing board is united in its condemnation of these actions and was in agreement that they cannot go unnoticed or unaddressed.
“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. Such neutrality is firmly anchored in the genuine belief that sport holds the transformative power to overcome our shortcomings and summon from within us the best of our humanity, especially in the darkest of moments.”
Parsons added that, with the decision now made, he expects all other participating committees to treat the neutrally competing athletes as they would any other.
In response, Global Athlete, a body that represents the interests of elite sportspeople, described the IPC’s measures as a blow to Ukrainian athletes and citizens in allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete.
In a strongly worded statement, it said: “The IPC claims they are acting by forcing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete under a neutral flag. But the Russian flag was already prohibited from the Paralympics as punishment for a decade of state-sponsored doping and data manipulation.
“With or without a neutral label, the Russian and Belarusian authorities will use their athlete’s participation in these games as state propaganda. During the games and upon the athletes’ return home, these authoritarian regimes will use every ounce of their athletes’ success to justify and distract from their brutal war.
“Lives are being lost, families are being torn apart, and tears flow for the Ukrainian nation. The IPC and sport cannot stop the violence, but they could have sent a message that Russia and Belarus’ actions warrant the toughest sanctions and complete isolation …
“Make no mistake, sport is politics. Vladimir Putin [Russia's president] has consistently used the Olympic and Paralympic Games to advance his domestic and international agendas. Many Russian Olympic and Paralympic Committee athletes are members of the Russian military. Sports administrators’ claims of ‘political neutrality' are a convenient lie used to deflect calls to stand up for human rights and peace.”
Global Athlete’s criticism of the IPC’s measures has been echoed by a number of participating committees.
Sarah Hirshland, the chief executive of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, wrote said that while her body empathizes with the difficulty of the decision for the IPC, it was “disappointed in this outcome as it excuses Russia’s disregard for not only the Olympic truce but also for the victims of a senseless war.”
The British Paralympic Association said in a statement, meanwhile: “We cannot see how the participation of Russia or Belarus in the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games is compatible with the objectives of the Paralympic movement”.
The German Disabled Sports Association has said it considers the decision unacceptable and described it, in the current global political situation, “as a completely wrong signal.”
All eyes were on the IPC, whose meeting this morning followed the widespread abandonment of Russia and Belarus by international federations, other sporting organizations, and the upcoming 2022 World Games.
The invasion has so far seen at least 2,000 civilians killed, Ukraine has said.