COMMENT: International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons has revealed that athletes from Russia and Belarus will now be banned from competing at the Beijing Games, starting Friday
Image: Handout via REUTERS)
When the U-turn came, it came very quickly.
Just 14 hours earlier, Paralympic chiefs said allowing Russia and Belarus to compete in the Beijing Winter Games as ‘neutral athletes’ was the ‘severest possible’ punishment available to them .
Yet, just after 7 a.m. this morning, it became crystal clear that in fact they could go much further.
“What is clear is that the rapidly escalating situation now puts us in a unique and impossible position so close to the start of the Games,” said Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee.
He went on to detail how “several” teams and athletes had threatened not to compete.
How the situation in the athletes’ village was getting worse and ensuring the safety of the athletes had become “untenable”.
Through no fault of the IPC, he said, war had come to the Games and “behind the scenes, many governments have influence over our cherished event”.
“An overwhelming number of members have contacted us and told us that if we do not reconsider, it now risks having serious consequences for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.”
What did he expect, when the rest of the sporting world had already severed ties with two pariah nations spreading fear and death across Ukraine?
Nadine Dorries, the British Culture Secretary, made this clear by demanding that the IPC “join the rest of the world in condemning this barbaric invasion by banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing”.
She ice-coldly warned that if they failed to do so, Britain would consider “the full range of options” to protest their decision.
It is now clear that she was not an isolated voice – not only among governments and national Paralympic committees, but also among athletes already embedded in Beijing.
“What happened between the decision and now is that the environment in the village is deteriorating,” Parsons explained. “We want this to be a magical experience for our athletes, not an experience where athletes have negative feelings for each other.
“So we thought then that changing the decision we made yesterday was the best option to protect that.”
IPC spokesman Craig Spence explained it more directly.
“What we’ve seen in the 14 hours since our decision is a shift from letters saying ‘we think you should ban’ to ‘now we’re thinking of going home, we’re not playing’.
“This threatens the viability of this event. It’s a huge change. If we don’t act on that, we’re crazy. So we have.”
Parsons ended on a note of concern for the well-being and mental health of innocent athletes caught up in this unprecedented crisis – Russia was due to have 71 competing in Beijing.
“You are victims of the actions of your governments,” he said.
“We are very sorry that you are affected by the decisions your governments made last week in violating the Olympic truce.”
With that, he left the microphone. They got there at the end, but they went around the houses.