Paralympic Winter Games set to start in Beijing after Russia and Belarus ruled out

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CNN

A record number of Paralympians – around 700 – were due to compete at this year’s Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, but the day before the opening ceremony attention focused on the 83 who will not compete.

This is after the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced the decision to make a U-turn to prevent Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing at the Games following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Backlash from teams and athletes preparing to compete in Beijing was ‘undermining the viability’ of the Games and making the safety of athletes ‘unsustainable’, according to the IPC, even after Russian and Belarus participants had to compete as neutrals .

It is in this context that the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Winter Games starts on Friday with the first events scheduled for Saturday. The competition runs until March 13 and features 78 events in six Paralympic sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, para ice hockey, snowboarding and wheelchair curling.

As with last month’s Winter Olympics, events will take place in the three distinct areas of central Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou.

READ: These are the sports Russia has been suspended from

After the first deployment of Russian troops to Ukraine last week, the IPC has condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s violation of the Olympic truce – a resolution that orders conflicts around the world to be suspended for seven days before the Games Winter Olympics seven days after the Winter Paralympics.

Then on Monday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ‘recommended’ that Russian and Belarusian athletes either be banned from international sporting events or allowed to compete as neutrals where the ‘short notice’ of the decision would make a ban impractical. .

Earlier this week, IPC chairman Andrew Parsons said allowing Russian and Belarusian participation in Beijing, albeit as neutrals, was the “severest possible punishment” available to the government. governing body, but pressure from the international para sport community forced the IPC to resort to harsher sanctions. measures.

A statement released by Ukrainian athletes said Russia and Belarus would use the Games as “state propaganda […] with or without a neutral label,” while Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said the decision not to ban participation altogether “excuses Russia’s contempt not only for the Olympic truce, but also for the victims of an insane truce. war.”

The IPC found itself in a “unique and impossible position”, according to Parsons, who said several countries had threatened not to compete in Beijing.

After previously saying Russian and Belarusian athletes could compete as neutrals, the IPC on Thursday banned 71 Russian and 12 Belarusian athletes from competing in the Games. “You are victims of the actions of your governments” was Parsons’ message to those affected by the decision.

Belarus has been a key Russian military ally during the conflict, serving as a launching point for troops in Ukraine.

READ: Tennis star Svitolina says all prize money she wins at Monterrey Open will go to Ukrainian military

The action begins in Beijing, the first city to host both Summer and Winter Games, with medal events in men’s and women’s para-alpine skiing and men’s and women’s para-biathlon on Saturday.

Host China will have a team of 96 athletes competing in the six sports during the Games. After clinching its first medal – a gold medal in wheelchair curling – in Pyeongchang four years ago, this year’s Chinese team is expected to be more successful.

The United States topped the medal table at the last Paralympic Winter Games and fielded a team of 67 – 28 of whom are making their Paralympic debut – this year.

Among the athletes returning to the team is Oksana Masters, a 10-time Paralympic medalist at the Summer and Winter Games who competed in rowing, cycling, cross-country skiing and biathlon.

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Born in Ukraine before being adopted by her American mother, Masters is one of the most decorated Paralympic athletes of the past decade. Before the Games, she noted his “heart breaks” for the country of his birth.

Other stars of Team USA include hockey player Declan Farmer – whose two goals helped the USA beat Canada and win gold at the last Games – and Dan Cnossen, a former Navy SEAL who won six medals in biathlon and cross-country skiing four years ago. .

As part of the Canadian team, cross-country skier Brian McKeever will compete in his sixth and last Paralympic Games at the age of 42. McKeever, the most decorated male cross-country skier at the Paralympic Games, has amassed 17 medals since his debut in 2002, including 13 gold.

Meanwhile, Ukraine sent a full contingent of 20 athletes and nine guides to Beijing to compete in biathlon and cross-country skiing.

The team’s arrival in Beijing was hailed as a “miracle” by Valeriy Sushkevych, president of the Ukrainian Paralympic Committee.

“We came here from Ukraine and we traveled through Ukraine. It took us several days. We had to overcome many war-related obstacles,” Sushkevych told reporters on Thursday.

“Many of our team barely managed to escape the shelling and shell explosions, but we still managed here.”

Sushkevych said he slept on the floor of the team bus for the last two days of their trip through Europe before boarding a flight to Beijing, adding: “We could have given up and not come to Beijing . This was the situation; bombs were exploding, missiles were exploding.

“There is a full-scale war in Ukraine. When the simple things couldn’t be arranged, the easiest solution would have been to stay in Ukraine.

The countermeasures that were in place for the Winter Olympics in February are also being implemented for the Paralympic Games.

This includes a “closed loop” system encompassing venues, conference centers and hotels and linked by a dedicated Games transport service. Being fully vaccinated allows participants to enter the “closed loop” without quarantine, while those who are not vaccinated must self-isolate for 21 days upon arrival.

Once inside the ‘closed loop’, Games participants are tested daily for Covid-19 and, if positive, are confined to a room in an isolation facility until that they return two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

By the close of the Winter Olympics on February 20, a total of 437 cases of Covid-19 had been recorded among Olympics-related personnel after more than 1.8 million tests; 185 of those positive tests were for athletes and team officials.

Between the end of the Olympics and Wednesday, which marked two days before the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games, 17 other cases of Covid-19 were recorded.

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