Russian athletes out of the Paralympic Games in a stunning showdown

The International Paralympic Committee said Thursday in Beijing that, in a stunning reversal, Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from the Winter Paralympics for their country’s role in the war in Ukraine.

The change comes less than 24 hours after the IPC announced on Wednesday that it will allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete when the games open on Friday, but only as neutral athletes with colors, flags and other national symbols removed.

The IPC received immediate criticism for its initial decision. It was branded a treason that sent the wrong message to the Russian leadership. The Belarus International Committee also said it was clear that many athletes would refuse to compete against Russians or Belarusians, creating chaos at the Paralympics and damaging reputations.

Announcing the initial actions on Wednesday at a press conference in Beijing, IPC President Andrew Parsons openly expressed sympathy with the Ukrainian people, but said his actions were constrained by his organization’s rules and fear of legal action.

Parsons said nearly the opposite in announcing his reversal, noting that his constituents had backed down.

“In the past 12 hours, a significant number of members have been in contact with us,” Parsons said in a statement. “They tell us that if we don’t reconsider our decision, it is now likely to have serious consequences.”

“What is clear is that the rapidly escalating situation has now put us in a unique and impossible position very close to the start of the Games,” Parsons added.

IPC now joins sports such as football, track and field, basketball, hockey, and others that have imposed a blanket ban on Russians and Belarusians.

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On Monday, the International Olympic Committee pushed sports bodies to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes from international events, but left the final decision to individual governing bodies.

The IOC has been slow to crack down on Russia, allowing its athletes to compete in the last four Olympics in the wake of the state-sponsored doping scandal and cover-up of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Russia was expected to have 71 athletes competing in Beijing. It was not immediately clear how many athletes from Belarus. Ukraine said it would have 20.

The Winter Paralympic Games open on Friday and end on March 13th.

Parsons also addressed Russian and Belarusian athletes.

“To athletes with disabilities from the affected countries, we deeply regret that you have been affected by the decisions taken by your governments last week in violating the Olympic Truce. You are the victims of your governments’ actions.”

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More from the AP Winter Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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