By STEPHEN WADE – AP Sportswriter
In a startling reversal, Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from the Paralympic Winter Games because of their countries’ role in the war in Ukraine, the International Paralympic Committee said in Beijing on Thursday.
The reversal comes less than 24 hours after the IPC announced on Wednesday that Russian and Belarusian athletes would be allowed to compete when the Games opened on Friday, but only as neutral athletes with their colors, flags and other national symbols removed.
The IPC was immediately criticized for its original decision. It has been called a treason that sent the wrong message to the Russian leadership. The IPC also said it was obvious many athletes would refuse to compete against Russians or Belarusians, wreaking havoc on the Paralympics and damaging reputation.
IPC President Andrew Parsons, who announced the initial measures at a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday, openly sympathized with the Ukrainian people but said his actions were constrained by his organization’s rules and fears of legal action.
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Parsons said almost the opposite when announcing his reversal, noting that his constituents had pushed back.
“We have had an overwhelming number of members contact us in the last 12 hours,” Parsons said in a statement. “They have told us that if we don’t reconsider our decision, there will likely be serious consequences now.”
Parsons added, “What is clear is that the rapidly escalating situation so close to the start of the games has put us in a unique and impossible position.”
The IPC now joins sports like soccer, track and field, basketball, hockey and others that have imposed blanket bans on Russians and Belarusians.
The International Olympic Committee on Monday urged sports federations to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from international events, but left the final decision to individual governing bodies.
The IOC has been slow to move against Russia and allowed its athletes to compete in the last four Olympics after a state-sponsored doping scandal and cover-up at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
71 athletes were expected from Russia to compete in Beijing. It was not immediately clear how many Belarusian athletes were involved. Ukraine has announced it has 20.
The Winter Paralympics begin on Friday and end on March 13th.
Parsons also addressed the Russian and Belarusian athletes.
“To the para-athletes from the affected countries, we are deeply sorry that you have been affected by the decisions your governments made last week to break the Olympic truce. They are victims of the actions of their governments.”
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