Paralympics reverses course, bans Russian, Belarusian athletes over Ukraine invasion

·3 min read

Earlier this week, the International Olympic Committee recommended that all sporting organizations block the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competition, a direct response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

However, the International Paralympic Committee, organizers of the upcoming Paralympics, pointedly did not follow those recommendations, initially allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in the upcoming Paralympics under a neutral banner.

Now, in response to widespread protest, the IPC has reversed course, and will not permit Russian or Belarusian Paralympians to participate in the Games.

“The war has now come to these Games and behind the scenes many governments are having an influence on our cherished event,” IPC president Andrew Parsons said Thursday, per AP. “We were trying to protect the Games from war.”

Despite the IOC's constant outward declarations, the Olympics and Paralympics are political theater of the highest degree. Athletes represent their countries, and if their countries are at war, the athletes bear the burden of taking responsibility for their homeland's actions. The Ukraine invasion has reportedly ratcheted up tensions inside the Beijing athletes' village to intolerable degrees.

“We don’t have reports of any specific incidents of aggression or anything like that,” Parsons said. “But it was a very, very volatile environment in the village. ... It was a very rapid escalation, which we did not think was going to happen. We did not think that entire delegations, or even teams within delegations, will withdraw, will boycott, will not participate.”

Already, the Latvian curling team had vowed not to take the ice against Russia's team, and others had reportedly discussed leaving the Games entirely. A massive pullout from the event would threaten the Paralympics' entire viable operation.

“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," Parsons said. "You are victims of your governments’ actions."

The IOC is likely to face legal action from the Russian and Belarusian delegations, which include 71 Russian and 12 Belarusian Paralympians.

The Russian Paralympic Committee blasted the IOC's decision, calling it "completely unfounded" and saying the decision implies that "the RPC and Russian para athletes appear as the perpetrators of the current political conflicts." The delegations will appeal the ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which already heard at least two cases involving Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva during the Olympics.

“We are currently in work to establish our legal position to file lawsuits on the protection of our athletes’ rights, against the discrimination of athletes based on their ethnicity and the use of sports as a tool of a political pressure,” Russian sports minister Oleg Matytsin said, per The Guardian. “Today’s decision of the International Paralympic Committee to bar our team is a blatant violation of athletes’ rights and a manipulation of the Olympic Charter and human lives’ values in pursuit of political goals.”

The IOC now joins a growing list of athletic federations that have barred Russian athletes from participation. The international federations of hockey, soccer, basketball, track and field, biathlon, figure skating, skiing, volleyball, chess and other sports have blocked Russian athletes, while the NHL, NBA, UEFA, Formula 1 and other organizations have moved competitions out of Russia.

The Paralympics in Beijing are about to begin. (Peter Cziborra/Reuters)
The Paralympics in Beijing are about to begin, but without Russian and Belarusian athletes. (Peter Cziborra/Reuters)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.