Russo-Ukrainian War: Live Updates and Breaking News
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 bar Russia and its teams from world sports as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine.
The executive board of the International Paralympic Committee, which organizes the Games, said athletes from Russia and Belarus would compete as neutrals and any medals they won would not be counted in the Games medal table. Affected athletes will compete under the Paralympic flag and have been instructed to cover any flags or logos identifying their country that appear on their uniforms.
But the board declined to take bigger action at a meeting in Beijing on Wednesday, citing a lack of legal grounds to punish the Russian and Belarusian delegations for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Belarus faces the same penalties because it supported the invasion.
The sanctions 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 Beijing Winter Olympics last month, Russian athletes competed under the banner of the ROC, for the Russian Olympic Committee. At the Paralympic Games, they were to compete as representatives of the Russian Paralympic Committee.
The Paralympics are organized by a non-profit organization separate from the International Olympic Committee, but it follows the principles of that organization and organizes the Games in parallel with the Olympics, using many of the same facilities.
In a statement explaining its decision, the board of directors of the International Paralympic Committee condemned the invasion as a violation of the Olympic Truce, an informal agreement that calls on the Games to promote peace despite conflict. But the board said Russia and Belarus had not breached any specific Olympic rules and added: “It is currently not a membership requirement for an IPC member to ensure compliance with the Olympic truce.”
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 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.
Friday’s opening ceremony could now be a stage for protests by athletes, and the presence of Russians in all competitions could generate discord and controversy, with speculation that athletes from other countries could protest or refuse to compete.
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 Paralympic committee said. In an open letter, the athletes had called for the expulsion of Russian and Belarusian teams and athletes from the Paralympic Games. The Ukrainian team is dominated by biathletes and cross-country skiers, sports where they 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 strong sanctions,” the statement published in Global Athlete said. “If the IOC and IPC refuse to act quickly, you are clearly emboldening [this] violation of 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.
The IPC also announced that no events will take place in Russia or Belarus until further notice.
Tariq Panja contributed reporting from London.