BEIJING- International Paralympic Committee banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Winter Paralympic Games for their countries’ roles in the war in Ukraine, the IPC announced in Beijing on Thursday.
After announcing on Wednesday that Russian and Belarusian athletes will compete when the Games open on Friday, the IPC reversed its position on Thursday.
However, they will be forced to compete as neutral athletes, without the athletes’ national colors, flags, or other symbols.
In the immediate aftermath of its decision, the IPC faced criticism. It was viewed as a betrayal that sent the wrong message to Russia’s leadership. According to the IPC, it was also evident that many athletes would refuse to compete against Russians or Belarusians, resulting in chaos for the Paralympics and damaging their reputation.
Andrew Parsons, president of the IPC, sympathized openly with the Ukrainian people during a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday but said his actions were restricted by his organization’s rules and the fear of legal action.
In announcing his reversal, Parsons noted that constituents had pushed back against him.
“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 explained, “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.”
As a result, the IPC joins sports such as soccer, track-and-field, basketball, hockey, and others that have imposed blanket bans on Russians and Belarussians from playing.
On Monday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) urged sports governing bodies to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes from international competitions, but it left the final decision to the athletic governing bodies.
Following a state-sponsored doping scandal and cover-up at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the IOC has been slow to punish Russia, allowing its athletes to compete in the last four Olympics.
71 Russian athletes were expected to compete in Beijing. There was no immediate word on the number of Belarusians competing. Ukraine has stated it will have 20.
It is expected that the Winter Paralympics will open on Friday and end on March 13.
During his remarks, Parsons also addressed the athletes from Russia and Belarus.
“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.”