Russian and Belarusian athletes will no longer be able to compete at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing after multiple teams threatened not to compete at the Games, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said on Thursday.
The decision comes less than a day after the IPC initially permitted athletes from both countries to compete as neutrals under the Paralympic flag and the Paralympic anthem.
IPC President Andrew Parsons said on Wednesday that Russian athletes should not be viewed as “aggressors” and that the organization’s governing board didn’t have the authority to ban athletes outright as a result of its constitution.
The IPC, however, said in a statement on Thursday that multiple National Paralympic committees (NPCs), teams and athletes were now threatening not to compete and that the situation in the athlete villages “is escalating […] and ensuring the safety of athletes has become untenable.”
“By no fault of its own the war has now come to these Games and behind the scenes many Governments are having an influence on our cherished event,” Parsons said.
“In taking our decision yesterday we were looking at the long-term health and survival of the Paralympic Movement. 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.
“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 Truce. You are victims of your governments’ actions,” added Parsons.
A total of 71 Russian and 12 Belarusian Paralympic athletes along with guides for both nations were due to compete at the Games, which kick off on Friday with the Opening Ceremony. Parsons said he believed both countries will take legal action.
Explaining the decision on Thursday, Parsons added that “no one is happy” with the outcome but that it was “the best decision for the Paralympic Games to go ahead.”
Parsons also rejected the notion that the IPC had underestimated the level of protest by NPCs, teams and athletes following the initial decision.
While he couldn’t put an exact number on the protests, he said it was “a really high number.”
“We have another 600 athletes that we need to make sure the environment for them will make it possible to have the Games and that they can live in harmony in the Paralympic Villages,” added Parsons at a press conference on Thursday.