IANS

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has reversed its decision to allow para-athletes from Russia and Belarus as neutral competitors and will now decline entries from the two countries for Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games starting on Friday.

The IPC took this decision following a specially convened meeting of the IPC Governing Board, it said in a release on Thursday.

The decision will impact 83 para-sportspersons.

The IPC took this decision as multiple National Paralympic Committees (NPC), teams and athletes were threatening not to compete against the Russians because of the country's recent invasion of Ukraine. With the situation in the athletes village escalating, ensuring the safety of athletes had become untenable.

Andrew Parsons, IPC President, said: "At the IPC we are very firm believers that sport and politics should not mix. However, by no fault of its own, the war has now come to these Games and behind the scenes, many Governments are having an influence on our cherished event.

"The IPC is a membership-based organisation, and we are receptive to the views of our member organisations.

"When our members elected the Board in December 2021 it was to maintain and uphold the principles, values, and rules of the Paralympic Movement," he said.

Parsons said their earlier decision was to ensure the long-term health of the Paralymp"c movement.

"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," Parsons was quoted as saying in the release.

"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, 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. First and foremost, we have a duty as part of the Paralympic mission, enshrined in the constitution, to guarantee and supervise the organisation of successful Paralympic Games, to ensure that in sport practiced within the Paralympic Movement the spirit of fair play prevails, violence is banned, the health risk of the athletes is managed and fundamental ethical principles are upheld," he said.

The IPC chief apologised to athletes from the affected countries and said the presence of athletes from Russia and NPC Belarus in Beijing will make others to withdraw from the Winter Paralympics.

"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. You are victims of your governments' actions.

"Athlete welfare is and always will be a key concern for us. As a result of today's decision 83, Para athletes are directly impacted by this decision.

"However, if RPC and NPC Belarus remain here in Beijing then nations will likely withdraw. We will likely not have viable Games. If this were to happen, the impact would be far wider-reaching.

"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," Parsons said.

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