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Russian and Belarusian athletes banned from Winter Paralympic Games

International Paralympic Committee reverses decision less than a day after it said it would allow competitors from the two allied countries to compete as neutral athletes

Russian President Vladimir Putin talks via videoconference with members of the Russian Paralympic Committee team ahead of the XIII Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 21, 2022. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin talks via videoconference with members of the Russian Paralympic Committee team ahead of the XIII Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 21, 2022. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

BEIJING — Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from the Winter Paralympic Games because of their countries’ roles in the war in Ukraine, the International Paralympic Committee said Thursday in Beijing.

The about-face comes less than 24 hours after the IPC on Wednesday said it would allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete when the Games open on Friday, but only as neutral athletes with colors, flags and other national symbols removed.

The IPC received immediate criticism for its initial decision. It was termed a betrayal that sent the wrong message to Russia’s leadership. The IPC also said it was evident that many athletes would refuse to compete against Russians or Belarusians, creating chaos for the Paralympics.

Part of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week was launched by forces that had massed in neighboring Belarus, which continues to support Moscow in its invasion.

The IPC now joins sports organizations like those of soccer, track, basketball, hockey and others that have imposed blanket bans on Russians and Belarusians.

Much of the sports world has reacted with solidarity to Ukraine.

A helicopter flies past the Beijing Olympic Tower ahead of the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing, China, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

FIFA kicked Russia out of the 2022 World Cup, while rugby’s world governing body banned Russia and Belarus from all international rugby events “until further notice.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, an accomplished judoka, was also suspended as honorary head of the International Judo Federation.

Ukraine team en route

With its civilian airspace closed, half a million refugees fleeing to neighboring countries, and Russian troops closing in on Kyiv, getting Ukraine’s Paralympians to Beijing was going to be a logistical issue.

Committee president Andrew Parsons had said last week it would be a “mammoth challenge,” declining to comment further for security reasons.

By late Tuesday, the country’s National Sports Committee for the Disabled confirmed its full team of 20 athletes and nine guides was making its way to the Games.

“I hope that tomorrow, March 2, we will be in Beijing,” said Natalia Garach, communications manager for Ukraine’s team.

The Eastern European country has punched above its weight in previous Paralympic Winter events, with frequent podium finishes in the biathlon and ski events.

The delegation took home 22 medals in 2018 — including seven golds — gaining the sixth spot on the world tally.

For some team members, the emotional rollercoaster and disrupted focus will be a case of deja vu.

During Russia’s hosting of the Winter Paralympics in 2014, Ukrainian athletes had to grapple with Moscow’s takeover of the Crimea peninsula.

Sporting action begins Saturday as more than 650 athletes from 49 countries compete in 78 events across six sports – ice hockey, snowboarding, biathlon, cross-country skiing, alpine skiing and wheelchair curling.

Just like the Olympics last month, events will be held in a strict coronavirus bubble, and restrictions have canned public ticket sales — though handpicked spectators sitting socially distanced can watch live at some venues.

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