Russians and Belarusians at the Winter Paralympics in Beijing will compete as "neutral athletes" because of their countries' roles in the war against Ukraine, the International Paralympic Committee said on Wednesday. (More Sports News)
Russian athletes had already been slated to compete as RPC, short for Russian Paralympic Committee, as punishment for the state-sponsored doping scandal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and a subsequent cover-up.
The IPC added more restrictions when the Paralympics open on Friday, but stopped short of expulsion. Belarus was sanctioned for its part in aiding Russia with the invasion and war against Ukraine.
Both delegations will be excluded from the medal table, and the IPC said it would not hold events in either country "while the present situation continues."
"What we have decided upon is the harshest possible punishment we can hand down within our constitution and the current IPC rules," IPC President Andrew Parsons said in a statement.
"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."
The International Olympic Committee on Monday pushed sports bodies to exclude Russian athletes from international events, but it left the final decision to individual governing bodies. The IOC has been slow to crack down on Russia, allowing its athletes to compete in the last four Olympics following Sochi.
The IOC said the action was needed now to “protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants" but left sports bodies with a way around the exclusion by adding that Russians and Belarusians could compete as neutral athletes or teams if expulsion was not possible because of short notice.
The move by the IPC comes as Russia is being barred from competing in a long list of sports including ice skating, skiing, soccer, hockey, basketball, track and field, and some tennis events. Some sports like swimming haven't followed the recommendation from the IOC to ban Russians, instead allowing them to compete as neutral athletes.
Parsons acknowledged the possibility that some Paralympic athletes might refuse to compete against their counterparts from Russia. He also had said the options for the IPC were "limited" because of the possibility of legal challenges from Russia or elsewhere.
IOC President Thomas Bach will not attend the Paralympics and has designated Parsons — an IOC member — to represent the body. IOC vice president Ser Miang Ng was to attend, but has tested positive for COVID-19. The IOC said Ng had only mild symptoms.
Paralympic officials say 648 athletes and 49 delegations will take part in the Winter Paralympics. There were 2,900 athletes at last month's Winter Olympics with 91 delegations.
Officials say 71 Russian athletes are expected to compete in the Paralympics, joined by 20 from Ukraine. The entire Ukrainian delegation was expected to arrive in time for Friday's opening ceremony. The Paralympics close March 13.