Winter Paralympics: Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals at Beijing 2022

Russian athletes competed at the Winter Olympics under ‘ROC' (AP)
Russian athletes competed at the Winter Olympics under ‘ROC' (AP)

Russian and Belarusian athletes have been cleared to complete as neutrals at the Paralympic Games in Beijing, despite pressure to exclude them in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The International Paralympic Committee made the decision on Wednesday ahead of the Games’ opening ceremony on Friday.

Belarus has been a key ally in the war, allowing the Russian army to invade Ukraine from its borders close to the capital Kyiv, and both countries have been ostracised from the majority of the sporting world, including the 2022 World Cup and Women’s Euro 2022 by football’s global governing body Fifa.

Russian athletes were only allowed to compete at last month’s Winter Olympics under the name of the ‘Russian Olympic Committee’, rather than Russia itself, due to doping offences in the country. But the IPC has rejected calls for an outright ban from the Paralympics.

“The RPC (Russian Paralympic Committee) and NPC Belarus will participate as neutrals at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games,” an IPC statement read. “They will compete under the Paralympic flag and not be included in the medal table.”

The move was criticised by the British government. Nadine Dorries, the digital, culture, media and sport secretary, said on social media: “I’m extremely disappointed in the IPC – this is the wrong decision and I call on them to urgently reconsider. They must join the rest of the world in condemning this barbaric invasion by banning Russian and Belarussian [sic] athletes from competing.”

She added: “We will consider the full range of options in protest of this decision, in consultation with UK Sport and the British Paralympic Association. I will also be meeting with my international counterparts this week to discuss how we can respond collectively.”

A joint statement from the athletes of Ukraine and Global Athlete group, an international athlete-led pressure body that aims to inspire change in world sport, said the IPC issued “another blow” to every Ukrainian athlete and citizen with its decision.

“The demands of the athletes have been cast aside in favour of Russian interests,” the statement said. “Sports administrators are choosing bloodshed and profits over principle and stakeholders.”

“With or without a neutral label, the Russian and Belarusian athletes will use their athlete’s participation in the Games as state propaganda,” the statement added. “During the Games and upon the athletes’ return home, these authoritarian regimes will use every ounce of their athletes’ success to justify and distract from their brutal war.”

The British Olympic Association’s Athletes’ Commission said: “We join the BOA in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the horrific and unwarranted attacks on the Ukrainian people.

“Recognising the violation of the Olympic Truce, and hearing the heartbreaking first hand accounts from Ukrainian athletes on yesterday’s IOC athletes’ call, we add our voices to the Olympic community in excluding Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from all international competitions, effective immediately.

“We stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, the Olympic family of Ukraine, and our fellow Ukrainian athletes and friends.”