Russian and Belarusian Paralympic athletes have been cleared to participate at the Beijing Paralympic Winter Games as neutrals, despite mounting pressure for a ban in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced the decision on Wednesday, saying that athletes from the two countries would compete under the Paralympic flag and not be included in the medal table.
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The decision came as Moscow’s offensive into Ukraine entered its seventh day. Belarus, an important ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has offered strategic assistance for the military deployment by hosting Russian troops and allowing them to pass through its southern border.
Last week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended that sport federations and organisers not invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international competitions. If time or legal constraints would not allow such action, the IOC urged sport organisations to accept Russian and Belarusian athletes only as neutrals.
IOC Executive Board recommends no participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officialshttps://t.co/XZyLIi11XR
— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) February 28, 2022
At least 400 civilians have been killed and more than 800,000 people have fled Ukraine since Russia launched the invasion last week, drawing a widespread backlash from the international community, including the world of sport0.
UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, who is responsible for sport, slammed the IPC’s decision saying to be “extremely disappointed”.
“This is the wrong decision and I call on them to urgently reconsider,” she said in a statement posted on Twitter. “They must join the rest of the world in condemning this barbaric invasion by banning Russian and Belarussian athletes from competing,” she added.
Dorries added that she would consider options to protest the decision.
My statement on the International Paralympic Committee's decision 👇 pic.twitter.com/HwxoXsrJMe
— Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) March 2, 2022
The Canadian Paralympic Committee said to be in support of the sanctions imposed upon Russia and Belarus, but it would have “liked the two countries expelled immediately”. The CPC added that it was waiting for the special assembly to review IPC’s membership status.
The Canadian Paralympic Committee supports the sanctions imposed upon Russia and Belarus today by the International Paralympic Committee for their attacks on Ukraine. ➡️
— Canadian Paralympic Committee (@CDNParalympics) March 2, 2022
The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee said to be “disappointed” as the IPC’s decision “excuses Russia’s disregard for not only the Olympic truce, but also for the victims of a senseless war,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.
The IPC is also set to host an extraordinary meeting on “whether to suspend or terminate the membership of the Russian Paralympic Committee and Belarus Paralympic Committee” it said in a statement, adding that it will not hold any events in Russia or Belarus until further notice.
The IPC’s move came as FIFA and UEFA, respectively the world and the European football governing bodies, have banned athletes from Russia and Belarus, while also stripping them of this season’s Champions League final.