It was inevitable. Russia and Belarus have been asked to pack up and leave the athletes village, less than 24 hours before the start of the Paralympic games in Beijing.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) that oversees the conduct of the Paralympic sports and Olympics took a complete u turn after para athletes from some participating nations , especially once member of the Soviet bloc, Latavia, refused to take field against their Russian and Belarussian opponents, especially in curling.
The IPC which had initially decided to allow both Russia and Belarus as neutral athletes with colours, flags and other national symbols removed because of the military action in Ukraine had to reverse its decision under threats of boycotts and withdrawals by other participating nations.
It is for the first time in the history of the Olympic movement that two member nations of International Paralympic Committee have been told to pack up just a day before the opening ceremony of the Winter Paralympic Games.
The IPC was faced with threats of withdrawals and growing animosity in the Athletes Village before it reversed its decision taken less than 24 hours earlier while expelling athletes from Russia and Belarus.
The Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) that had demanded revoking membership of both Russia and Belarus because of the Ukrainian invasion, hailed the IPC decision of expelling Russian and Belarussian athletes from the games starting tomorrow.
The Russian and Belarussian Paralympic Committees may go for legal remedy by moving the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
The Paralympics in Beijing, which follow the Winter Olympics, close on March 13.
“The war has now come to these Games and behind the scenes many governments are having an influence on our cherished event,” IPC President Andrew Parsons said Thursday after announcing the ban. “We were trying to protect the Games from war.”
He said the IPC underestimated the negative reaction to letting Russians and Belarusians compete — even as neutral athletes. The Athletes Village, which he hoped would be a place of harmony, was now like a tinderbox.
“We don’t have reports of any specific incidents of aggression or anything like that,” Parsons said. “But it was a very, very volatile environment in the [Athletes] Village.
“It was a very rapid escalation which we did not think was going to happen. We did not think that entire delegations, or even teams within delegations, will withdraw, will boycott, will not participate.”
The first instance came when Latvia said its curlers would refuse to play against the Russians in a scheduled group game.
“It was a stark change in just over 12 hours,” says IPC spokesman Craig Spence. He said the talk was “now we’re thinking of going home. We’re not playing.”
“That threatens the viability of this event. So that’s a huge change,” Spence said. “The atmosphere in the Village is not pleasant.”
Parsons said he expected legal action from the Russian and Belarusian Paralympic committees.
“We do believe that the Russian Paralympic Committee and the Belarusian Paralympic Committee may take legal action,” Parsons said. “But the facts that we express here led us to understand that this was the right decision to be taken.”
The Canadian Paralympic Committee released a statement saying it was “pleased” with the IPC’s reversal of its original decision.
“The IPC has now done the right thing in banning the Russian and Belarusian teams from competing at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games,” the CPC said.
“We join many organizations around the globe in continuing to condemn the atrocities being undertaken by Russia and Belarus in Ukraine, and stand alongside the Ukrainian team at these Games.”
Canadian Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge said she was “really happy” that the IPC had reversed its decision.
“We are fully behind them on this,” she said.
The decision, she said, was a relief to Canadian athletes, who were located right next to the Russians in the athlete’s village.
“There was a lot of tension on site,” she said.
St-Onge, who said she wanted to see athletes from Russia and Belarus barred from the Paralympics, attended a meeting with 25 sports ministers worldwide on Wednesday where they reaffirmed their decision to keep the pressure on Russia.
Hockey Hall of Famer Hayley Wickenheiser, one of several Canadian athletes calling for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the IPC to boot Russia and Belarus out of the Olympic and Paralympic movements, said the IPC’s decision was “the right outcome, the wrong way to get there.
“As usual, [it’s] the athletes and [national Paralympic committees] forcing the hand,” Wickenheiser said on Twitter. “The Olympic and Paralympic games are for those countries who want peace — not war.”
The Russian Paralympic Committee called the decision to expel its athletes “baseless” and “illegal.”
“[Russian athletes] have not done anything which could be interpreted as being involved in the current political complications,” the RPC said.
The Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov assailed the decision, calling it a “disgrace.”
“The situation is monstrous,” Peskov said. “Yesterday one decision was taken and today they took another. We strongly condemn the International Paralympic Committee for its u-turn.”
– compiled from News agencies and Media reports.
Parsons said he understands the disappointment of the 71 Russians and 12 Belarusians who will be sent home. He said he did not know how quickly that would happen, particularly with severe COVID-19 restrictions in place in China.
“No one is happy with the decision but certainly this is the best decision for the Paralympic Games to go ahead,” Parsons said.
The IPC now joins sports like soccer, athletics, basketball, hockey and others that have imposed blanket bans on Russians and Belarusians.
Parsons also addressed the Russian and Belarusian athletes directly, saying they are not at fault.
“To 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 Truce,” Parsons said. “You are victims of your governments’ actions.”