Russia is launching a last-ditch court appeal after its athletes were banned from the Beijing Winter Paralympics on the eve of competition following a u-turn by the International Paralympic Committee.
The IPC had announced on Thursday that it was reversing its shock decision 24 hours earlier to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals following intense international pressure, but will now see its decision challenged in the court of arbitration for sport.
The Russian sports minister, Oleg Matytsin, confirmed an appeal to let its athletes compete – which Russia hopes will be heard immediately – saying the ban had been “a manipulation of the Olympic charter”.
“We are currently in work to establish our legal position to file lawsuits on the protection of our athletes’ rights, against the discrimination of athletes based on their ethnicity and the use of sports as a tool of a political pressure,” Matytsin said.
“Today’s decision of the International Paralympic Committee to bar our team is a blatant violation of athletes’ rights and a manipulation of the Olympic Charter and human lives’ values in pursuit of political goals.”
One of the primary factors amid the u-turn by the IPC announced by its president, Andrew Parsons, was a revolt among competing nations and a threat of a boycott.
“In taking our decision yesterday we were looking at the long-term health and survival of the Paralympic movement,” Parsons said of the initial reasoning that the athletes could compete. “We are fiercely proud of the principles and values that have made the movement what it is today. However, what is clear is that the rapidly escalating situation has now put us in a unique and impossible position so close to the start of the Games.
“In the last 12 hours an overwhelming number of members have been in touch with us and been very open, for which I am grateful. They have told us that if we do not reconsider our decision, it is now likely to have grave consequences for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games. Multiple NPCs, some of which have been contacted by their governments, teams and athletes, are threatening not to compete.
“With this in mind, and in order to preserve the integrity of these Games and the safety of all participants, we have decided to refuse the athlete entries from RPC and NPC Belarus.”
The ban will affect around 83 athletes from the two countries. Parsons described the situation in the athletes’ village in Beijing as being “untenable” without the ban being implemented due to the dissent among athletes as well as NPCs.
The British Paralympic Authority was one of the organizations to have criticized the decision and the UK government had also asked that the IPC reconsider. The culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, welcomed the reversal. “I am pleased that the IPC has now come to the right decision,” she said. “The welfare of all the other competing athletes is of utmost importance and we are pleased the IPC also recognize that. The whole country will be fully behind our ParalympicsGB team at the Games.”
Dorries is to chair an international meeting of sports ministers on Thursday to discuss how to further strengthen action against the Russian state. Among the items on the agenda are a complete boycott of Russian athletes in sporting events and an end to sporting investment in Russia. A spokesperson said: “The government wants to ensure the Russian state cannot use sport to legitimise its regime in any way and is asking domestic sporting bodies and international partners to leave no stone unturned in looking at how far they can go in punishing Putin’s regime. ”
Parsons, meanwhile, also apologised to athletes from Russia and Belarus for the action the IPC felt forced to take: “To the Para athletes from the impacted countries, we are very sorry that you are affected by the decisions your governments took last week in breaching the Olympic trick. You are victims of your governments’ actions.
“I hope and pray that we can get back to a situation when the talk and focus is fully on the power of sport to transform the lives of persons with disabilities, and the best of humanity.”