In an unexpected twist in the decision by Olympic authorities, Russian and Belarusian athletes have been excluded from the Paralympic Games because of the war between Russia and Ukraine, a move Russian officials called “illegal”

After announcing on Wednesday, that athletes from Russia and Belarus could compete, but only as “neutrals” at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, on Thursday the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) reversed course and said those competitors “will no longer be able to participate.”

Competing as neutral athletes meant they were to be stripped of national colors, flags and other insignia, as well as having no share in the Olympic medal tally.

“The war has now come to these Games and behind the scenes many governments are having an influence on our cherished event,” said Andrew Parsons, the IPC president, after the ban was announced. “We were trying to protect the Games from war,” he added, according to the Associated Press.

“At the IPC we are very firm believers that sport and politics should not mix,” Parsons said in the statement and said he expects the Russian and Belarusian Paralympic committees to take legal action, which could likely be dealt with at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

IPC officials claimed that the change of decision was based on the threat of a boycott of the games by the other participating nations if Russian and Belarusian players were allowed to compete, citing a tense atmosphere inside the Olympic Village. 

“The atmosphere in the Village is not pleasant,” said Paralympic Committee spokesman Craig Spence.

The IPC’s surprise turn caused a strong reaction of anger within the Russian sports community, and the response from the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) was immediate, calling the decision “unfounded” and contradictory to the apolitical nature of sport,” according to RT news agency. 

In this regard, the RPC considers the IPC’s decision illegal and reserves the right to defend the rights and interests of Russian Paralympic athletes in sports and other judicial bodies.

“Of course, the RPC will continue to work on the development of domestic physical culture and sports among people with disabilities and the creation of all necessary conditions for this.”

Meanwhile, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, also echoed the RPT’s comments, calling the change of course adopted by the IPC “horrible.”

“This is a shame for the International Paralympic Committee. I can’t say otherwise,” Peskov said 

“Yesterday, one decision was made, today this decision was changed, so, of course, we strongly condemn the International Paralympic Committee,” he maintained.

Speaking to Tass, Boris Paykin, a member of the Russian State Duma, and chairman of the Committee for Physical Culture and Sport, also expressed outrage warning that “we are no longer surprised that politics has taken over sport and its most important principles.”

And he lashed out at the IPC saying that after having allowed Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete, “today in a cowardly way and under obvious pressure, is changing its position – this is the height of cynicism and double standards.”

“Our Paralympic athletes are people of special courage, they have enough inner strength not only to overcome illnesses, but also to realize their potential in the sports arena,” he added. “I think that for Belarusian and Russian athletes we should organize a sports festival here, in Russia,” Paykin said, according RT.

The Beijing Paralympic Games, which follow the Winter Olympics, conclude on March 13.

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