by Kevin Burton
The International Paralympic Committee on Thursday bowed to growing pressures and banned athletes from Russia and Belarus from the Paralympic Games, according to the Associated Press.
This reversed a decision announced Wednesday that athletes from the two countries would compete as “neutrals,” competing under the Paralympic flag and not being counted in the medal count.
IPC president Andrew Parsons had said Wednesday that these “neutrals” measures were the “harshest possible punishment” under its constitution.
Wars, like the unprovoked Russian attack on Ukraine, destroy constitutions and a lot of other things.
“Faced with threats of withdrawals and growing animosity in the Athletes Village, organizers of the Winter Paralympics on Thursday reversed course and expelled athletes from Russia and Belarus,” the AP wrote.
“The war has now come to these Games and behind the scenes many governments are having an influence on our cherished event,” Parsons said Thursday after his hand was forced. “We were trying to protect the Games from war.”
“Parsons said the IPC underestimated the negative reaction to letting Russians and Belarusians compete — even as neutral athletes. The Athletes Village, which Parsons hoped would be a place of harmony, he now depicted as a tinderbox,” the AP wrote.
“And it was not only Ukrainians resenting the Russian and Belarusian participation, but across the board.”
“We don’t have reports of any specific incidents of aggression or anything like that,” Parsons said. “But it was a very, very volatile environment in the (Athletes) Village.”
“It was a very rapid escalation which we did not think was going to happen. We did not think that entire delegations, or even teams within delegations, will withdraw, will boycott, will not participate,” Parsons said.
The first instance came when Latvia said its curlers would refuse to play against the Russians in a scheduled group game, the AP reported.
IPC spokesman Craig Spence described a stark change in just over 12 hours from athletes, administrators and politicians. He said the talk was “now we’re thinking of going home. We’re not playing.”
“That threatens the viability of this event. So that’s a huge change,” Spence said. “The atmosphere in the Village is not pleasant.”
This just in: the atmosphere in Ukraine is also not pleasant, according to multiple news sources. There is a lot of “unpleasant’ going around.
Opening ceremonies for the Paralympic Games are scheduled for today. Competition begins tomorrow.
The IPC’s forced reversal could restore the viability of the games, but the need for the reversal exposes the IPC leadership as tone deaf, unqualified to stage such a major event.
“As the world watches in horror while Russia brazenly attacks the innocent people and athletes of Ukraine, this (banning Russia and Belarus) is the only acceptable action to be taken until peace is restored,” the United States Olympic Paralympic Committee said in a statement released before the IPC’s initial ruling and its reversal.
Parsons said he expects legal action from the Russian and Belarusian Paralympic committees, which is what he said he feared on Wednesday when he ruled their athletes could compete. The likely place is the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The Russian Paralympic Committee called the decision to expel its athletes “baseless” and “illegal,” the AP reported.
“(Russian athletes) have not done anything which could be interpreted as being involved in the current political complications,” the RPC said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also decried the decision, calling it a “disgrace,” the AP reported.
“The situation is monstrous,” Peskov said. “Yesterday one decision was taken and today they took another.”
Attacking and killing innocent citizens in neighboring countries is also widely viewed as “monstrous.”
The International Olympic Committee on Monday pushed sports organizations to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes from international events. But it left the final decision to individual governing bodies, thus missing a chance to head off this debacle.
On Sunday many Ukrainian athletes wrote in an open letter to the IOC and IPC presidents calling on athletes from Russia and Belarus to be banned from international competition, including the Paralympics.
“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,” Parsons said Wednesday, before the forced reversal.
That’s the sort of political neutrality that everybody appreciates greatly when we’re talking about overlooking nothing more serious than political rhetoric being spewed at the United Nations. It doesn’t work so well when an aggressor nation crosses a border and starts shooting.
“The eyes of the world will be watching the Paralympic Winter Games in the coming days,” Parsons said Wednesday.
That much, Parsons got right.