Russians and Belarusians will participate in the Paralympic Games under a “neutral” banner

End of the suspense: Russian and Belarusian athletes were authorized on Wednesday to participate in the Paralympic Games in Beijing which begin on Friday, despite the conflict in Ukraine, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced on Wednesday.

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While the shadow of exclusion hung over the athletes of the two countries, the international organization decided to let them compete, but under a “neutral” banner.

“They will compete under the Paralympic flag and will not appear on the medal table,” the International Paralympic Committee said in a statement.

This changes little for Russian athletes, who could already not compete under the flag of their country because of the sanctions aimed at Russia for institutionalized doping.

Ukraine has been in limbo since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a “military operation” that became a full-scale invasion last week.

In tune with the general condemnation of many governments, international sports bodies have been engaged in a process of breaking with Moscow for a few days.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has accused Russia of breaking the Olympic truce. He urged the federations on Monday to ban Russians from all competitions, but also Belarusians, whose country is collaborating in the invasion of Ukraine.

The International Football Federation (FIFA) has thus excluded Russia from the 2022 World Cup. And many federations (athletics, skating, rugby, boxing, swimming) have announced exclusion measures targeting Russian athletes, and sometimes Belarusians .

Doubts hovered over their participation in the Paralympic Games in Beijing, due to the immediate proximity of the event, which will take place from March 4 to 13.

“This is a very difficult time for the world and the Paralympic movement,” said Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), who said he understood the disappointment of those who were campaigning for the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes. .

However, he explained that the statutes of the IPC did not allow the organization to exclude these athletes. In any case not before the organization of a general assembly scheduled for later this year.

Andrew Parsons urged participants in the Paralympic Games to treat “neutral athletes (Russians and Belarusians) as they would any other athlete”.

“Unlike their respective governments, these athletes and officials are not aggressors,” he stressed.

He also refused to say whether the IPC would take sanctions against any athletes who would show their opposition to Russian athletes during the Games.

Participants will be able to express their support for Ukraine on social networks, in the media and at press conferences, confirmed Craig Spence, the spokesperson for the international organization.

But they will have to refrain from any political statements or gestures during competitions or medal ceremonies, in accordance with the rules defined long ago with the representatives of the athletes, he underlined.

The CIP also indicated on Wednesday that it would hold an extraordinary general meeting “during 2022”.

A vote will then take place “on whether to make respect for the Olympic Truce a condition of membership and to end the membership of the Russian Paralympic Committee and the Belarusian Paralympic Committee”, he underlined.

“The IPC will not be holding any protests in Russia or Belarus until further notice.”

Ukraine’s closed airspace and disrupted land transport since the start of the Russian invasion had also cast doubt on the arrival of Ukrainian athletes.

But they did arrive in China, the CIP confirmed on Wednesday.

“The Ukrainian team, made up of 20 athletes and nine guides, arrived safely in Beijing,” said Andrew Parsons.

During the 2018 edition in Pyeongchang, the Ukrainians distinguished themselves with several podiums in skiing and biathlon. The delegation had won 22 medals (including seven gold) and finished sixth in the nations ranking.

In total, the Paralympics-2022 must bring together some 650 athletes, who will compete in six sports (biathlon, wheelchair curling, sledge hockey, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and snowboarding).

As during the Olympics, the sporting event will take place in a health bubble to avoid any leakage of the coronavirus elsewhere in China.

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