ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott reports on Winter Paralympics organisers decision to ban Russian and Belarus athletes from the Games following a threat of a boycott
Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from participating in the Beijing Paralympic Winter Games - which open tomorrow - after the governing body reversed its decision less than 24 hours after announcing they could compete as neutrals.
The International Paralympic Committee’s announcement on Wednesday that the athletes would be allowed to compete, but would not be able to represent their countries, was met with criticism and the threat of a boycott amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
In a major U-turn on Thursday morning, IPC President Andrew Parsons announced the "rapidly escalating situation" had left the governing body in an "impossible position".
Mr Parsons said 83 athletes would now be unable to compete and the decision was taken due to the threat of widespread withdrawals from other countries and that the situation in athletes village had become "untenable" amid safety concerns.
He said "no one is happy with the decision" but that "war was brought to these Games".
"You are victims of your governments' actions" - Andrew Parsons, of the IPC, announces its decision to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Games
He said in a statement: “In taking our decision yesterday, we were looking at the long-term health and sufvictrvival of the Paralympic Movement. We are fiercely proud of the principles and values that have made the movement what it is today.
“However, what is clear is that the rapidly escalating situation has now put us in a unique and impossible position so close to the start of the Games. Yesterday we said we would continue to listen, and that is what we are doing.”
He continued: “In the last 12 hours, an overwhelming number of members have been in touch with us and been very open, for which I am grateful. 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.
“Multiple NPCs (National Paralympic Committees), some of which have been contacted by their governments, teams and athletes, are threatening not to compete.
“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."
Mr Parsons apologised to all athletes involved and told the impacted Russians and Belarusians they had been "victims of your governments' actions".
“I hope and pray that we can get back to a situation when the talk and focus is fully on the power of sport to transform the lives of persons with disabilities, and the best of humanity," he added.
The IPC had announced on Wednesday that although Russian and Belarusian athletes could participate, they would not be included in the medals table. It had been decided they would compete under the Paralympic flag and the Paralympic anthem would be played instead of those of their respective countries.
Since then, the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine has fallen to invading Russian forces, while the capital Kyiv and the country's second-largest city, Kharkiv, endured further shelling overnight and into the morning leading to more deaths and hundreds of casualties.
More than 2,000 Ukrainian civilians have died since President Vladimir Putin's invasion began last Thursday.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries criticised the IPC’s initial decision and said the British Paralympic team should look at the “full range of options” open to them to protest against it.
On Thursday, she said she was "pleased that the IPC has now come to the right decision and answered our call to ban Russian and Belarus athletes in response to Putin's barbaric, senseless invasion."
“I will discuss the international sporting response and further measures we can take to isolate the Russian regime with my international counterparts later today," she added.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the UK government plans to create a European coalition with the aim of putting pressure on Russia.
Its goals include stripping Russia and Belarus of hosting rights for international sporting events and banning their teams and athletes from international competition.
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