Ukraine Paralympians in Beijing as Russians leave with no legal action

BEIJING, CHINA MARCH 4, 2022: A view of the Beijing 2022 Olympics and Paralympics mascots panda Bing Dwen Dwen and lantern Shuey Rhon Rhon ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games, scheduled for March 4-13, 2022. Sergei Savostyanov/TASS/Sipa USA

Ukraine’s Paralympians have pledged to turn Beijing’s Winter Paralympics into their own frontline as their Russian and Belarusian counterparts reel from the late decision to ban their athletes from competition.

On Thursday, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) did a U-turn on its decision to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes despite the invasion of Ukraine.

It cited threats from numerous National Paralympic Committees, teams and athletes not to compete, saying such a boycott would jeopardise the Games’ viability.

IPC president Andrew Parsons also noted that escalating animosity in the athletes’ village meant “ensuring the safety of athletes (if Russian and Belarusian athletes remained) has become untenable”.

Following the Ukrainian team’s arrival in Beijing, president of the Ukrainian National Paralympic Committee, Valerii Sushkevych welcomed the “very important” decision to ban athletes from Russia and Belarus, noting Russia had broken the Olympic Truce.

He also stressed the importance of Ukraine being visible on the Paralympic stage to ensure its viability.

“A superpower wants to destroy my country, our country, and our presence at the Paralympic Games is not merely about being here. We are not just one of the teams that arrived here,” said Sushkevych.

“This is a sign that Ukraine was, and will remain a country. It is a symbol that Ukraine is alive.

“Today many members of the Ukrainian Paralympic team do not leave their phones.

“They keep calling their families. It is very important for them to stay in touch with their families.

“The frontline is back home and our military is defending that line from the aggressor, but our frontline is here in Beijing. This is where we fight – at the Paralympic Games.”

Meanwhile, Russia condemned as a “disgrace” the last-minute decision to ban its athletes.

“The situation is monstrous, of course. This is a disgrace for the International Paralympic Committee,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

Parsons had expected both Russia and Belarus to take legal action and Russian news agency TASS later reported Russia was drafting a lawsuit with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the IPC’s decision.

The IPC president had sympathised with the 83 Russian and Belarusian athletes who will now be directly affected, but stressed their situation was of their own governments’ making and allowing them to compete would have had a wider effect on close to 600 other athletes.

Australia was not among the teams to threaten a boycott, but did welcome Thursday’s announcement.

“This is the best decision to ensure that the integrity of the Beijing Paralympic Games is upheld to the best possible standards in these unprecedented times,” Paralympics Australia president Jock O’Callaghan said.

“We recognise that this situation doesn’t give us the luxury to (rely) upon the principle that ‘politics and sport should not mix’ when we are witnessing hostilities in Europe on this scale.

“The IPC has made a complex and difficult decision on the cusp of a Paralympic Games opening ceremony, but we believe it is the right one with the safety and security of all participants at its core.”

IPC’s decision was supported by the Paralympic committees of Britain, Iceland, Canada and New Zealand, while the Polish Paralympic Committee said it would have been unimaginable for athletes from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus to compete in the same place.

The Russian Paralympic Committee and its team will leave Beijing and have no immediate plans for legal action.

The RPC issued a statement on Friday criticising the decision to exclude Russian athletes from the Paralympics and said the move was “absolutely politicised.”

It said its lawyers had determined that the Court of Arbitration for Sport would not be able to render a decision “during the accelerated proceedings.”

The RPC said it reserved “the right to apply to the appropriate international and national court” later at its own discretion.

It said it was not “worthwhile at the current time to remain in Beijing” and planned to leave. The team is expected to fly out on Sunday.

The RPC also criticised International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who earlier this week recommended that “international sports federations and sports event organisers not invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international competitions.”

It said Bach’s move lead “to the degradation and collapse of the world sport.”

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