Andrew Parsons explains to Lee Reaney, staff writer for the Kyiv Post, the reason for Russian Paralympians being allow to parcipate in the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics. Alamy Stock Photo

'Bullsh**' - Decision to allow Russian athletes at Paralympics draws backlash

Germany’s top Paralympic official said late on Wednesday that the decision lacked courage.

RUSSIAN ATHLETES WERE cleared on Wednesday to compete at the Winter Paralympics that open this week under the shadow of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, but the decision by event organisers was met with an immediate backlash.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) held a meeting and posted a brief statement saying athletes from Russia as well as Belarus, which hosted troops for the invasion, would be allowed to compete as “neutrals”.

It came after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) urged sporting federations across the world to exclude athletes from the two countries.

“They will compete under the Paralympic flag and not be included in the medal table,” the IPC said.

President Andrew Parsons said it was a difficult time for the world and the Paralympic movement but he urged competitors to treat the “neutral athletes as they would any other athletes”.

“Unlike their respective governments these athletes and officials are not aggressors,” Parsons told reporters in Beijing.

But Germany’s top Paralympic official said late on Wednesday that the decision lacked courage and called it “bullshit”.

“It’s a dark day for the Paralympic movement,” the country’s Paralympic Committee President Friedhelm Julius Beucher told AFP in China’s Zhangjiakou, which will host the cross-country skiing, biathlon and para-snowboard events.

Beucher said Ukrainian athletes at the Games would be phoning home each day asking loved ones, “are you still alive, are you okay?”

Britain’s Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries also took a dim view of the decision.

“I am extremely disappointed in the IPC — this is the wrong decision and I call on them to urgently reconsider,” she said on Twitter.

“They must join the rest of the world in condemning this barbaric invasion by banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing.”

But Parsons said the IPC’s decision “is the harshest possible punishment we can do within the framework of our rules”.

He added that the decision had not been unanimous within the committee but he would not disclose a breakdown of the voting.

The IPC will host an extraordinary general assembly this year to vote on whether to make compliance with the Olympic Truce a membership requirement and whether to suspend or terminate the membership of the Russian and Belarusian Paralympic committees.

It will not hold any events in Russia or Belarus until further notice, it added.

Parsons declined to say whether the IPC would take action against any athletes protesting at the Games, saying it would act on a case-by-case basis.

Much of the sports world has reacted in solidarity with Ukraine.

Fifa kicked Russia out of the 2022 World Cup, while rugby’s world governing body has banned Russia and Belarus from all international events “until further notice”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, an accomplished judoka, was also suspended as honorary head of the International Judo Federation.

With its civilian airspace closed, half a million refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries and Russian troops closing in on Kyiv, getting Ukraine’s Paralympians to Beijing was expected to be a difficult task.

But Parsons confirmed the team’s safe arrival on Wednesday.

“I’m delighted to say that just hours ago, the Ukrainian team, consisting of 20 athletes and nine guides, arrived safely here in Beijing,” he told reporters.

The Eastern European country has punched above its weight in previous Paralympic winter events, with frequent podium finishes in the biathlon and ski events.

The delegation took home 22 medals in 2018 — including seven golds — gaining the sixth spot on the world tally.

For some team members, the emotional rollercoaster and disrupted focus will be a case of deja vu.

During Russia’s hosting of the Winter Paralympics in 2014, Ukrainian athletes had to grapple with Moscow’s takeover of the Crimea peninsula.

Sporting action begins Saturday as more than 650 athletes from 49 countries compete in 78 events across six sports –- ice hockey, snowboarding, biathlon, cross-country skiing, alpine skiing and wheelchair curling.

Like the Olympics last month, events will be held in a strict coronavirus bubble in Beijing.

China social welfare expert Xiaoyuan Shang said hosting the Paralympics this year will build on the “positive legacies” left from the last time the Games were held in China.

That includes “making people with disabilities more confident in themselves, reducing discrimination and stigma towards people living with disabilities in China, improved accessible facilities in cities and changed social attitudes”, she told AFP.

– © AFP 2022

Comedian Michael Fry is our special guest on this week’s episode of The Front Row, in partnership with Guinness. Joining host Seán Burke, Eimear Considine and Murray Kinsella, he chats about his family’s rugby background and his short-lived playing days, before using his musical ear to rank the anthems of each Guinness Six Nations team. Click here to subscribe or listen below:

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