LONDON: Russia continued to attract sporting sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine but Russian and Belarusian athletes who have gathered in Beijing for the Winter Paralympics earned a reprieve on Wednesday as they have been allowed to compete — albeit as neutrals.
The Winter Paralympics begin on Friday and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) decided that Russian and Belarusians will compete without their country’s flag — a decision that was slammed by other countries.
Other sports bodies which have so far let Russians and Belarusians keep competing as neutral athletes include FINA, which governs swimming and other aquatic sports, and the federations for boxing, gymnastics, fencing and judo.
Britain condemned the IPC’s decision while the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee said they were “disappointed” with the outcome. Canada said they wanted to review the membership status of Russia and Belarus in the IPC.
The athletes of Ukraine and the Global Athlete group, an international athlete-led pressure body, were left fuming, saying many Russian Olympians and Paralympians are members of the Russian military.
“Sports administrators are choosing bloodshed and profits over principle and stakeholders,” their joint statement read.
The European Olympic Committees (EOC), however, said Russian and Belarus athletes and officials will not participate in the 2022 Winter European Youth Olympic Festival to be held in Vuokatti, Finland, from March 20-25.
“In order to safeguard the well-being of such young athletes, as well as protect the integrity of the event, the EOC believes Russian and Belarusian athletes should not compete in Vuokatti in any capacity,” it said.
Since the start of what Russian President Vladimir Putin has called “a special military operation” last week, Russian and Belarusian teams and athletes have found themselves frozen out from international competitions across sports.
Belarus has been a key staging area for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Sports including biathlon and table tennis were among those to join more than a dozen other Olympic sports in excluding competitors from Russia and Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine.
The restrictions have been strongly criticised by Russian politicians and on Wednesday by striker Artem Dzyuba, the top scorer for the Russian national football team.
Dzyuba wrote on Instagram that he is against any war. “War is terrible but said he found sporting sanctions a form of discrimination. I am against discrimination based on nationality. I’m not ashamed to be Russian. I am proud to be Russian. And I don’t understand why athletes have to suffer now.”
Motorsport’s governing body FIA had said Russian and Belarusian drivers could still take part in its competitions in a neutral capacity but Motorsport UK banned license holders from both countries from racing in Britain.
That decision will affect Formula One driver Nikita Mazepin who will not be able to race for the Haas F1 Team in the British Grand Prix on his Russian license.