The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has today (March 3) announced that it has reversed its decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals at the upcoming 2022 winter games in Beijing, which begin tomorrow (March 4) and run to March 13, following a significant backlash.

Following a meeting of its governing board yesterday (March 2), the IPC had indicated that athletes from the two countries would be banned from competing under their own flags due to the breaking of the Olympic Truce through Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine with support from Belarus.

Instead, it said that the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) and National Paralympic Committee of Belarus (NPC Belarus) would participate as neutrals under the Paralympic flag, among a number of other sanctioning measures.

However, many other national Paralympic committees (NPCs) and related sporting bodies quickly stated their opposition to the decision.

Global Athlete, a body that represents the interests of elite sportspeople, described the IPC’s measures as a blow to Ukrainian athletes and citizens and said Russia and Belarus would use “their athletes’ success to justify and distract from their brutal war.”

The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, British Paralympic Association, and German Disabled Sports Association were among the others to immediately criticize the IPC’s stance.

As a result, the IPC has said that athletes from Russia and Belarus will no longer be able to compete at the Beijing games, citing the need to take on board the views of its members and the safety of athletes.

In a statement, IPC president Andrew Parsons explained the initial decision had been based on the “principles, values, and rules of the Paralympic Movement” but that it was clear the escalating situation had put the organization in a “unique and impossible position”.

Parsons said: “In the last 12 hours an overwhelming number of members have been in touch with us and been very open, for which I am grateful. They have told us that if we do not reconsider our decision, it is now likely to have grave consequences for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games. Multiple NPCs, some of which have been contacted by their governments, teams, and athletes, are threatening not to compete.

“Ensuring the safety and security of athletes is of paramount importance to us and the situation in the athlete villages is escalating and has now become untenable. First and foremost, we have a duty as part of the Paralympic mission, enshrined in the constitution, to guarantee and supervise the organization of successful Paralympic Games, to ensure that in sport practiced 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 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.

“Athlete welfare is and always will be a key concern for us. As a result of today’s decision, 83 Para athletes are directly impacted by this decision. However, if RPC and NPC Belarus remain here in Beijing then nations will likely withdraw. We will likely not have a viable games. If this were to happen, the impact would be far wider reaching.”