The International Paralympic Committee on Thursday banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing at the Beijing Winter Games, reversing a decision from a day earlier under heavy protest. File photo by Roman Pilipey/EPA-EFE
March 3 (UPI) -- Russian and Belarusian athletes will not be permitted to compete at the Beijing Winter Games, the International Paralympic Committee said Thursday, reversing its decision on the eve of the event under growing pressure from member countries.
"The war has now come to these Games and behind the scenes many governments are having an influence on our cherished event," Andrew Parsons, president of the IPC, said in a statement.
Less than 24 hours earlier, the IPC had announced that it would allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate under neutral flags in the Paralympic Games, which are slated to kick off on Friday evening.
However, multiple governments, teams and athletes threatened to withdraw their participation in protest over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Belarus has been aiding.
"In the last 12 hours an overwhelming number of members have been in touch with us," Parsons said. "They have told us that if we do not reconsider our decision, it is now likely to have grave consequences for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games."
The International Olympic Committee on Monday recommended that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred from participating in the Paralympics, but qualified that such a decision may not be possible "on short notice for organizational or legal reasons."
Initially, Parsons echoed that reasoning, saying Wednesday that the IPC did not have the authority to exclude the athletes and predicting that such a move would not withstand a legal challenge.
In addition to the heavy pushback from members, the IPC head also pointed to safety concerns as a reason for the abrupt reversal.
"Ensuring the safety and security of athletes is of paramount importance to us and the situation in the athlete villages is escalating and has now become untenable," he said.
Russia's athletes had already been slated to compete under a neutral flag as Moscow continues to serve a suspension over a state-sponsored doping program that came to light after the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
The IOC faced criticism for its lenient policies towards Russia during the Beijing Winter Games last month, as the country was again at the center of a high-profile doping scandal around figure skater Kamila Valieva.
With its decision Thursday, the IPC follows international sports bodies for soccer, hockey, figure skating and track and field in barring Russian and Belarusian athletes.
Parsons said that 83 athletes would be affected by the Paralympics ban and expressed his sympathy to them.
"To the Para athletes from the impacted countries, we are very sorry that you are affected by the decisions your governments took last week in breaching the Olympic Truce," he said. "You are victims of your governments' actions."