IPC faces backlash over decision to allow Russians, Belarusians as neutrals at Winter Paralympics amid invasion of Ukraine

Paralympics chiefs have run into an emotive international backlash after their decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at the Winter Games.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) decided on Wednesday to go against the widespread demands that the two countries’ Paralympians are banned from the Beijing Games following Russia’s Belarusian-aided invasion of Ukraine.

Instead, the IPC decided they could still take part under the Paralympic flag as “neutral” athletes while not being included in the official medal table.

But the rulings were swiftly condemned by angry Ukrainian athletes and national Paralympic bodies as being a weak and “wrong” response to the growing crisis.

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The most heart-rending response came in Beijing just hours after the announcement.

A reporter from the Kyiv Post newspaper asked IPC president Andrew Parsons at a news conference what he would say to the family of 19-year-old Ukrainian biathlete Yevhen Malyshev, who had just died in military action.

“I cannot even start to imagine the pain that his family is feeling at the moment,” Parsons said after the reporter held up Malyshev’s picture to show him.

Yet Brazilian Parsons also defended the decision not to expel Russian and Belarusian athletes, saying that the rules of the IPC did not allow it and that the Bonn-based organization would have any expulsion “overturned in the German court of law.”

The IPC president Andrew Parsons gestures as he replies to a question from a journalist standing at a press conference.
International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons says his organization did not have the powers to peaks to ban Russian and Belarus athletes from Beijing.AP: Andy Wong

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There was a furious response to the decision in a statement from a group of Ukrainian athletes in conjunction with reform group Global Athlete.

“Yevhen Malyshev was killed in combat in Ukraine, defending his country against Russia’s attack. How many more lives need to be lost before sport implements meaningful sanctions?” the statement said.

“With or without a neutral label, the Russian and Belarusian authorities will use their athletes’ participation in these Games as state propaganda.

“Lives are being lost, families are being torn apart and tears flow for the Ukrainian nation.

Paralympics Australia had been among many national organizations wanting to see a blanket ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes.

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