Athletes from Russia and Belarus will no longer be able to compete at the 2022 Winter Paralympics after a dramatic U-turn on the eve of the opening ceremony.
The International Paralympic Committee had initially ruled athletes from the two countries could compete as neutral athletes, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
However amid threats from governments, teams and athletes to pull out from the Games in Beijing, the decision was reversed.
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"We are very firm believers that sport and politics should not mix," said IPC president Andrew Parsons.
"However, by no fault of its own the war has now come to these Games and behind the scenes many governments are having an influence on our cherished event.
"Ensuring the safety and security of athletes is of paramount importance to us and the situation in the athlete villages is escalating and has now become untenable."
It means 71 athletes from Russia and 12 from Belarus will not compete in China, plus guides for both nations.
"What is clear is that the rapidly escalating situation has now put us in a unique and impossible position so close to the start of the Games," said Parsons.
“Yesterday we said we would continue to listen, and that is what we are doing.
“In the last 12 hours an overwhelming number of members have been in touch with us and been very open, for which I am grateful.
“They have told us that if we do not reconsider our decision, it is now likely to have grave consequences for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games. Multiple NPCs [National Paralympic Committees], some of which have been contacted by their governments, teams and athletes, are threatening not to compete.”
The decision comes after the International Olympic Committee urged sports and federations to block Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing.
“To the Para athletes from the impacted countries, we are very sorry that you are affected by the decisions your governments took last week in breaching the Olympic Truce. You are victims of your governments’ actions," added Parsons.
“Athlete welfare is and always will be a key concern for us. As a result of today’s decision 83 Para athletes are directly impacted by this decision. However, if RPC and NPC Belarus remain here in Beijing then nations will likely withdraw. We will likely not have a viable Games. If this were to happen, the impact would be far wider reaching.
“I hope and pray that we can get back to a situation when the talk and focus is fully on the power of sport to transform the lives of persons with disabilities, and the best of humanity.”
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