The ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics is “illegal” and violates the principle of separating sport from politics, Russian officials have said.
In a stunning U-turn on the eve of the Beijing Games, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced on Thursday that Russian and Belarusian athletes would not be allowed to compete – despite clearing them to do so as neutrals just one day earlier.
IPC bosses cited the threats of boycotts from other nations if Russian and Belarusian athletes were cleared to contest medals, as well as the “escalating” and “untenable” situation in the Athletes’ Village.
“At the IPC we are very firm believers that sport and politics should not mix. However, by no fault of its own the war [in Ukraine] has now come to these Games and behind the scenes many governments are having an influence on our cherished event..,” said IPC president Andrew Parsons, who also accused Russia of breaching the “Olympic Truce” due to its military offensive in Ukraine.
The IPC’s rapid reversal before the Games officially begin on Friday has led to anger and dismay in Russian sporting circles, with the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) calling it “unfounded” and contradictory to the apolitical nature of sport.
In a strongly-worded statement, the RPC said the organization and Russian athletes were being seen as culprits, when in reality they have done “nothing that could in any way be interpreted as participating in the current political complications.”
“On the contrary, in full accordance with the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the RPC removed from its governing bodies any persons who had any relation to political structures,” it added.
“In this regard, the RPC considers the decision of the IPC illegal and reserves the right to defend the rights and interests of Russian Paralympic athletes in sports and other judicial instances.
“Of course, the RPC will continue to work on the development of domestic physical culture and sports among people with disabilities and the creation of all necessary conditions for this.”
The reversal from the IPC came amid heavy pressure for a blanket ban on all Russian and Belarusian athletes following a recommendation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) earlier this week.
Reacting to the Paralympic ban, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it “horrible.”
“This is a shame for the International Paralympic Committee. I can’t say otherwise,” Peskov said, according to Match TV.
“Yesterday, one decision was made, today this decision was changed, so, of course, we strongly condemn the International Paralympic Committee.”
READ MORE: ‘Sports genocide’ being waged against Russian athletes, says union
Russian State Duma Deputy Boris Paykin, who is a member of the Committee on Physical Culture and Sport, said the country could organize its own event for Paralympic athletes.
“These days we are no longer surprised that politics has taken over sport and its most important principles,” Paykin told TASS.
“But the decision of the International Paralympic Committee, which only yesterday announced that Russians and Belarusians will be able to take part in the Beijing Games, but today in a cowardly way and under obvious pressure, is changing its position – this is the height of cynicism and double standards.
“Our Paralympic athletes are people of special courage, they have enough inner strength not only to overcome illnesses, but also to realize their potential in the sports arena… I think that for Belarusian and Russian athletes we should organize a sports festival here, in Russia,” said Paykin.