Russo-Ukrainian War: Live Updates – The New York Times
BEIJING — Organizers of the Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing will allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete when the Games open this week, despite mounting pressure to exclude Russia and its teams from world sports as punishment for the invasion of Ukraine by the country.
The executive board of the International Paralympic Committee, which organizes the Games, said athletes from Russia and Belarus would be allowed to compete as neutrals, but said any medals they won would not be counted in the official medal table . Affected athletes will instead compete under the Paralympic flag, and they have been instructed to cover any flags or logos identifying their countries that appear on their uniforms.
But the Paralympic Games board voted against more meaningful action at a stressful meeting in Beijing on Wednesday, citing a lack of legal grounds to punish the Russian and Belarusian delegations. Belarus faces the same penalties as Russia for supporting the invasion.
“The athletes here, who were born in this nation, are not the abusers,” said IPC President Andrew Parsons. “I think we have to treat them with the same respect as athletes from any other nation who have earned the qualification to be here.”
Parsons called the board meeting “very tense and emotional”, and he said the decision not to punish Russia and Belarus more harshly was not unanimous, although he would not share the voting results among the 14 voting members.
“In deciding what action to take, the board has been guided by the fundamental principles of the IPC,” Parsons said, “which include a commitment to political neutrality and impartiality.”
He pointed out that if the board had voted to impose an outright ban, the Russian and Belarusian Paralympic committees most likely could have overturned it in an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The sanctions imposed by the board instead are similar to those already in place against Russia for its involvement in a state-sponsored doping program that corrupted the results of several previous Olympics. At the recent Winter Olympics in Beijing, Russian athletes competed under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee. At the Paralympic Games, they were to compete as representatives of the Russian Paralympic Committee.
At the Paralympic Games, Russian athletes will compete as Neutral Paralympic Athletes and Belarusians will be known as Neutral Paralympic Athletes, to establish three-letter designations for each for procedural purposes.
“Their teams don’t exist here,” Parsons said. “But we believe that individual athletes who have earned their qualification for these Games have the right to compete.”
The IPC’s decision was more measured than a flurry of statements over the past few days, when many international sports organizations – from football and motor racing to tennis and figure skating – reacted to the invasion from Ukraine by excluding Russian and Belarusian athletes from events around the world. Teams, leagues and organizations have also pulled events from Russia – the IPC did the same on Wednesday – or severed ties with Russian sponsors.
But many of these events are weeks or months away. The Paralympic Games will open on Friday and hold their first competitions on Saturday. Most of the 71 Russian athletes competing in the 61 medal-winning events are already in Beijing.
In fact, many top Russian athletes are expected to compete for medals, including Nordic skiers Nikolay Polukhin and Ekaterina Rumyantseva, who each won three gold medals at previous Paralympics. Alpine skier Alexey Bugaev and Russia’s 17-member sledge hockey team led by goaltender and captain Andrey Kasatkin are also strong medal contenders.
Some, like Bugaev, who was on the slopes in nearby Yanqing on Wednesday, have already started training.
Meanwhile, a delegation of 20 Ukrainian athletes arrived in Beijing on Wednesday, the IPC said. Parsons called their arduous journey from Ukraine to Beijing a “fantastic piece of human toughness and resilience”.
Parsons said the head of Ukraine’s Paralympic committee called for Russians and Belarusians to be banned from the Games, and Ukrainian athletes wrote an open letter arguing for a similar ban. The Ukrainian team is dominated by biathletes and cross-country skiers, who can expect to face the Russians in almost every event.
“Russia’s Belarusian-backed invasion of Ukraine is a flagrant violation of the Olympic and Paralympic charters – a violation that must be met with severe penalties,” read the athletes’ statement, released in coordination with the advocacy group Global Athlete. “If the IOC and IPC refuse to act quickly, you are clearly encouraging Russia and Belarus to violate international law and your own charters.
“Your inaction will send a message to every athlete and to the world that you have chosen Russia and Belarus over the interests of the athletes. Your legacy will be defined by your actions.
On Wednesday, the athletes released a second statement expressing their disapproval of the decision.
“The IPC and sport cannot stop the violence,” the athletes wrote, “but they could have sent the message that the action of Russia and Belarus warrants the harshest sanctions and complete isolation.” .
Parsons said he understood the disappointment of the Ukrainian athletes and hoped they would respond by winning as many medals as possible. He called Russia an “aggressor state” and called the invasion a “horrible” breach of the Olympic truce, which was to be in effect until March 21.
But he stressed that his organization’s constitution does not oblige member states to observe the truce. He seemed to regret the omission and announced that the IPC would hold a special general meeting later this year to address the issue. He said he would support moves to force member countries to abide by the truce.
“If I had a vote,” he said, “yes I would.”
Tariq Panja contributed reporting from London.