Paralympics allow Russia and Belarus to compete as neutrals amid Ukraine war
Beijing, China - The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) confirmed Wednesday that athletes from Russia and Belarus will be allowed to compete as neutrals at the Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing.
In a short statement, the IPC said Russia and Belarus "will compete under the Paralympic flag and not be included in the medal table" at the Games, which open Friday and run through March 13.
The decision comes in the wake of Russia launching an assault on the country of Ukraine last week, which breached the Olympic Truce and has led to a strong backlash from the international sporting community.
The IPC said there will be an extraordinary 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 Paralympic Committee and Belarus Paralympic Committee."
The committee additionally said it will not hold any events in Russia or Belarus "until further notice."
Russians were already due to compete under the banner of their Paralympic committee due to the country's previous doping sanctions.
Ukraine, which had requested the exclusion of Belarus and Russia, are to be represented by their full team of 20 athletes, and nine guides, in Beijing, and will compete as initially planned.
Ukraine strongly disagrees with the decision
The IPC's decision was met with heavy criticism, especially from Ukrainian athletes and the Global Athletes organization, who penned a strong response.
"They could have sent a message Russian and Belarusian's action warrant the toughest sanctions and complete isolation," a joint statement from Ukrainian Athletes and Global Athlete said.
IPC president Andrew Parsons explained the choice: "It was fundamental that we worked within the framework of our new constitution to remain politically neutral and within the IPC Handbook, the rules and regulations that govern the Paralympic Movement. What we have decided upon is the harshest possible punishment we can hand down within our constitution and the current IPC rules."
Parson also stated that he expected the neutral athletes to be treated like any other athletes at the Games, regardless of how hard that might be.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had recommended sports ban athletes from the two countries altogether, with the neutral option secondary "wherever this is not possible on short notice for organizational or legal reasons."
Russian and Belarusian athletes, meanwhile, have been banned from biathlon World Cups, the sport's governing body announced on Wednesday.
The International Biathlon Union said it was following the IOC's advice to exclude the athletes and would consider suspending the membership of both federations on March 17. Russian and Belarusian skiers said they would not want to compete in the remaining season events under the circumstances, so the ban makes little practical difference to the biathlon World Cup season.
Russia and Belarus are becoming increasingly isolated in the sporting world, with many federations blocking their athletes from competing. Others, such as tennis and swimming, will also let them compete as neutrals.
Cover photo: IMAGO/VCG