In a surprising decision reversal, athletes from Russia and Belarus were excluded from the Winter Paralympics over their countries' role in the war in Ukraine, the International Paralympic Committee said Thursday in Beijing.
The decision came less than 24 days after the CPI announced that it would allow the presence of athletes from both countries at the Games, which start on Friday, but as neutral athletes and without colors, flags and other national symbols on their clothing.
The original CPI decision was immediately criticized. It was called treason with the wrong message to the Russian leadership. The entity added that it became clear that many athletes would refuse to compete against Russians or Belarusians, creating chaos at the Games and damaging their reputations.
In his announcement Wednesday at a news conference in Beijing, CPI President Andrew Parsons openly sympathized with the Ukrainian people but said his actions were limited by the body's rules and fear of legal action.
Parsons said almost the opposite when announcing the change in direction of the CPI, highlighting the reaction of the members of the entity.
"In the last 12 hours, an overwhelming number of members have contacted us," Parsons said in a statement. “We have been told that if we reconsidered our decision, it was likely to have serious consequences.”
"What is clear is that the rapid escalation of the situation has put us in a unique and impossible position so close to the start of the Games," he added.
The CPI joins sports such as football, athletics, basketball or hockey in its veto of athletes from Russia and Belarus.
The International Olympic Committee on Monday pressured the various sports federations to exclude Russian athletes from international competitions, but left the final decision in the hands of each body. The IOC has been slow to take action against Russia, allowing its athletes to attend all four Olympics since Sochi, when a state-sponsored doping scandal was uncovered.
The Russian delegation in Beijing was expected to be made up of 71 athletes. It was not immediately clear how many Belarusians would be. Ukraine, for its part, said it will have 20.
The Paralympic Winter Games begin on Friday and will end on March 13.
Parsons also addressed the athletes expelled from the competitions.
“To the Paralympic athletes of the affected countries: we are very sorry that you have been affected by the decisions that your governments took in the last week to break the Olympic truce. They are victims of the actions of their governments.”