Russian athletes have escaped being thrown out of the Paralympics after the International Paralympic Committee decided to allow them to compete as neutrals.
The IPC announced its governing board had chosen not issue a blanket ban on the country’s national Paralympic committee (NPC) over its invasion of Ukraine because its rules did not cover breaches of the Olympic Truce – despite it being in force until after this month’s Games.
Belarusian athletes were also allowed to compete amid their own country’s support for the invasion.
The decision meant Russia’s 71-strong Paralympic team would remain in Beijing for the start of the Games on Friday, risking the threat of a boycott by other athletes.
Russian competitors had already been forced to compete without a flag or anthem due to the country’s doping scandal, with the IPC going further by forcing them to do so under the Paralympic flag and the Paralympic anthem and excluding the country from the medal table altogether.
Andrew Parsons, IPC president, said: “The IPC and wider Paralympic movement is greatly concerned by the gross violation of the Olympic Truce by the Russian and Belarusian governments in the days prior to the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games. The IPC governing board is united in its condemnation of these actions and was in agreement that they cannot go unnoticed or unaddressed.
“In deciding what actions the IPC should take, it was fundamental that we worked within the framework of our new constitution to remain politically neutral and within the IPC Handbook, the rules and regulations that govern the Paralympic movement. Such neutrality is firmly anchored in the genuine belief that sport holds the transformative power to overcome our shortcomings, and summon from within us the best of our humanity, especially in the darkest of moments.
“What we have decided upon is the harshest possible punishment we can hand down within our constitution and the current IPC rules. Post-Beijing 2022, we will also take measures with our 206 member organisations to determine whether any breaches of the Olympic Truce for future Paralympic Games could lead to the possible suspension or termination of an NPC. Our members will also be invited to decide whether we suspend or terminate the membership of NPC Russia or NPC Belarus.
“It is deeply disappointing that such action is required. However, the IPC governing board believes it to be necessary in order to hold governments to account for actions that impact directly on the Paralympic movement, the Paralympic Games and Paralympic athletes. This is especially so given the origins of the Paralympic movement, arising out of the horrific events of the Second World War.
“Now that this decision has been made, I expect all participating NPCs to treat the neutral athletes as they would any other athletes at these Games, no matter how difficult this may be. Unlike their respective governments, these Paralympic athletes and officials are not the aggressors, they are here to compete in a sport event like everybody else.
“The eyes of the world will be watching the Paralympic Winter Games in the coming days. It is vital we show to world leaders through our sport that we can unite as human beings and that our true power is found when promoting peace, understanding and inclusion. This is at the core of what the Paralympic movement does and what it stands for. We should not lose sight of this now, no matter what the circumstances.”
Russian tennis players to play under neutral flag instead of ban
By Simon Briggs
The possible ejection of Russian players from professional tennis tournaments is being discussed by the T7 working group, which comprises the three tours and four grand slams.
It seems more likely, however, that the sport will allow Russians to play on – as long as they agree to do so under a neutral flag.
This was the compromise suggested by Ukrainian No 1 Elina Svitolina in a social media post on Monday. “We Ukrainian players [have] requested to ATP, WTA and ITF… to accept Russian players only as neutral athletes,” wrote Svitolina, “without displaying any national symbols, colours, flags or anthems.”
A joint decision was expected to be announced later on Tuesday. In Svitolina’s post, she said that she would not play any matches against Russian or Belarusian opposition until the authorities agreed to the above request.
At the moment, though, Svitolina is still listed on the schedule in Monterrey to play the headline match against Russia’s Anastasia Potapova.
The International Tennis Federation is expected to make a ruling on this weekend’s planned Davis Cup qualifying match between Mexico and Belarus shortly. A cancellation or postponement would seem the likely result.
Any stance taken on Russian players would likely be adopted by the four majors as well as the three tours, although it is almost three months before the French Open is due to start.
While some might argue that Russian players should be ejected wholesale from the sport, this would leave the tours in a difficult legal position, as they are dealing with independent contractors rather than national teams.
Several Russian players have also been brave enough to criticise Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Andrey Rublev wrote “No war please” on a camera lens last week in Dubai, while the new world No1 Daniil Medvedev posted a social-media message that said “I want to ask for peace in the world.”
On Monday, last year’s French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova offered a strong anti-war statement. “I am in complete fear, as are my friends and family,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “I am against war and violence. Personal ambitions or political motives cannot justify violence. This takes away the future not only from us, but also from our children.
“I am confused and do not know how to help in this situation. I’m just an athlete who plays tennis. I am not a politician, not a public figure, I have no experience in this. I can only publicly disagree with these decisions taken and openly talk about it. Stop the violence, stop the war.”