Russian and Belarusian athletes will be banned from the Beijing Winter Paralympics after the International Paralympic Committee reversed its original decision.
The IPC’s announcement on Wednesday that athletes from those countries would be allowed to compete under a neutral flag was met by criticism and the threat of a boycott.
In a statement on Thursday morning, IPC president Andrew Parsons said: “In taking our decision yesterday, we were looking at the long-term health and survival 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.”
Parsons said 83 athletes would now be unable to compete, but the decision was taken because of the threat of widespread withdrawals from other countries as well as concerns about safety.
The situation in the athletes village, Parsons said, had “become untenable”.
He said: “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.”
Parsons apologised to athletes from Russia and Belarus, saying: “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 practised 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.
“With this in mind, and in order to preserve the integrity of these Games and the safety of all participants, we have decided to refuse the athlete entries from RPC (Russian Paralympic Committee) and NPC Belarus.
“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.
“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.”