Winter Paralympics Reverses Course Expelling Russian & Belarusian Athletes
On the heels of severe backlash within the Athletes Village, organizers of the Winter Paralympics Thursday about-faced and expelled Russian and Belarusian athletes from the games, which kick off on Friday. The move will jettison 71 Russian and 12 Belarusian athletes.
The action comes less than a day after the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said it would permit athletes from the two nations to compete—under the condition that they do so as neutral athletes, sans any national symbols whatsoever after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“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. “We were trying to protect the Games from war.”
The IPC underestimated the negative reaction to the original decision, Parsons said. He added that the committee was trying to foster harmony, but its actions had the opposite effect.
“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 (Athletes) 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.”
Latvian curlers threatening to boycott a match against the Russians was the catalyst for the reversal, and things quickly snowballed from there.
“That threatens the viability of this event. So that’s a huge change,” IPC spokesman Craig Spence said. “The atmosphere in the Village is not pleasant.”
Potential litigation could be on the horizon, Parsons warned.
“We do believe that the Russian Paralympic Committee and the Belarussian Paralympic Committee may take legal action,” Parsons said. “But the facts that we express here led us to understand that this was the right decision to be taking.”
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the decision a “disgrace.”
Sports such as soccer, track, basketball, hockey and others have also instituted similar bans on Russians and Belarussians. The International Olympic Committee left the final ban decision to individual governing bodies.
The Beijing Paralympics close on March 13.