Russians and Belarusian athletes will be banned from competing at the Winter Paralympics in Beijing because of their countries’ roles in the war against Ukraine, the International Paralympic Committee said Thursday.
The move reversed a decision made a day earlier that would have allowed the athletes to compete under “neutral” banners, which sparked international backlash and threats from some countries to not attend the Games, which begin on Friday.
“To the Para athletes from the impacted countries, we are very sorry that you are affected by the decision your governments took last week in breaching the Olympic Truce,” IPC President Andrew Parsons said in a statement.
“You are victims of your governments’ actions.”
The decision came a little over an hour after Hockey Canada said it “vehemently disagrees” with the IPC’s initial stance.
“Our organization does not believe it is right for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in one of the most prestigious sporting events while innocent people are under attack unprovoked,” said the Hockey Canada statement.
Russian athletes had already been slated to compete as RPC, short for Russian Paralympic Committee, as punishment for the state-sponsored doping scandal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and a subsequent cover-up.
The IPC had explained Wednesday its sanctions, which would have excluded both delegations from the medal table but stopped short of expansion, were “the harshest possible punishment we can hand down within our constitution and the current IPC rules.”
But Parsons said Thursday that it had heard from “an overwhelming number of members” over the last 12 hours that threatened “grave consequences” if the IPC did not reconsider expelling the two nations.
The IPC said on Wednesday it would withdraw the “Paralympic Honor” given to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It said “Paralympic Orders” were also withdrawn from: Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of the Sochi organizing committee (now Russia’s deputy prime minister); Dmitry Kozak, deputy prime minister of Russia (now deputy chief of staff of the presidential executive office); Oleg Syromolotov, chief of the Interagency Security Command Centre for the Sochi Games (now deputy foreign minister); Alexander Gorovoy, deputy chief of Interagency Security Command Centre (now first deputy interior minister).
The International Olympic Committee on Monday pushed sports bodies to exclude Russian 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 Sochi.
The IOC said the action was needed now to “protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants” but left sports bodies with a way around the exclusion by adding that Russians and Belarusians could compete as neutral athletes or teams if expulsion was not possible because of short notice.
The move by the IPC comes as Russia is being barred from competing in a long list of sports including ice skating, skiing, soccer, hockey, basketball, track and field, and some tennis events. Some sports like swimming haven’t followed the recommendation from the IOC to ban Russians, instead allowing them to compete as neutral athletes.
IOC President Thomas Bach will not attend the Paralympics and has designated Parsons — an IOC member — to represent the body. IOC vice president Ser Miang Ng was to attend, but has tested positive for COVID-19. The IOC said Ng had only mild symptoms.
Paralympic officials say 648 athletes and 49 delegations will take part in the Winter Paralympics. There were 2,900 athletes at last month’s Winter Olympics with 91 delegations.
Officials had said 71 Russian athletes were expected to compete in the Paralympics, joined by 20 from Ukraine. The entire Ukrainian delegation was expected to arrive in time for Friday’s opening ceremony. The Paralympics close March 13.
–With files from the Associated Press