Paralympics: Russians banned by athletes

Paralympics leaders expelled Russia from the Games. This was cheered by athletes around the globe.

Paralympics: Russians banned by athletes

Many saw this as the culmination of a growing movement among those who deliver the Olympic show to have a stronger voice in the Olympic world.

Vladyslav Heraskevych (a Ukrainian skeletonist) said that "it is because of athletes". He lives about 100 miles away from Kyiv's capital, Kyiv, and was afraid of an attack by Russian troops.

According to the Paralympics head, Thursday's rapid turn of events was triggered by "a very volatile environment" at Beijing's athletes village.

The International Paralympic Committee faced the real possibility that some athletes would simply pick up their bags and head home, just before their Games begin Friday. It decided to ban the Russian Paralympic team and the Belarusian Paralympic team, which were previously allowed to compete under a neutral flag.

Andrew Parsons, president of the IPC, stated that he did not believe entire delegations or teams within them would withdraw, boycott, or refuse to participate.

Rob Koehler of Global Athlete, the head advocate group, said that the moment was "a clear message for every athlete about the value and importance their voices are to change."

A group of Ukrainian athletes joined Koehler’s group early in the week to issue a statement condemning Russia’s invasion and asking that Russian and Belarusian athletes be banned from the Olympics or Paralympics. This letter's signers grew hourly. It included several hundred athletes when you add the names of those who signed the letter to the athlete committees and federations that signed it.

Although it could have been more, the letter stated that "it was a challenge for me to speak with all athletes of Ukraine, as they seek safety in bomb shelters."

The International Olympic Committee acknowledged that it had received the message. The International Olympic Committee urged all federations not to allow athletes from these countries to compete. Many followed that advice, including in ice skating, hockey, soccer, and basketball.

Paralympics did not issue a ban and explained that it would not stand up in court due to the rules. With the Olympics behind them, the IOC also rejected a ban.

This decision cast a new light on the New York Times report which stated that China specifically requested Russia to delay any invasion until after the Olympics. They are allies. Their presidents met the day after the opening ceremony to discuss their strategic partnership and decided that they had no limits.

The Paralympics also bring 600+ athletes to Beijing for 10 days of sledding, skiing and skating. This is the biggest gathering of international athletes outside of the Olympics. Parsons stated that the "harshest punishment" we could impose within our constitution and current IPC rules was the removal of Russia's flag without removing the country's athletes.

However, these rules were pushed aside by reality.

South Korean and Latvian curling teams stated that they would not take to the ice against Russia in an early round match. Others were also considering leaving. This possibility was not ignored by the IPC.

"It is evident that athletes forced this decision, and not sport leaders," Ali Jawad, who is a four-time Paralympian and is on the board for Global Athlete.

For athletes who have spent their entire lives training to be the best at sports, the thought of walking off is the most extreme option. No one has made this choice for decades.

Many Olympians found the thought of competing in China, which has a history of human-rights abuses, shocking. They all decided to go because they knew that there wasn't a groundswell of support. They claimed that boycotting would only make headlines for a few days, then the world would move on.

Paras athletes posed a greater threat than the Paras. This was the most recent, most powerful show of power in a movement which has seen victories over Olympic marketing rules and demonstrations. There have also been victories over women in bikini bottoms for handball and payment for women's soccer players.

Koehler stated, "The list goes on, and it shows, that athletes can say, 'Things changing, and they are changing today,' and that it really is possible."

Russia is likely to bring this case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport. CAS, IOC, World Athletics and the World Anti-Doping Agency are just a few of the many organizations that have a long history in manipulating international sport's rulebooks to their advantage.

One example: Even though Russia was eligible for most sports before the war broke out, despite eight years worth of rule-breaking, cover-ups and rule-breaking, was still considered a rogue country in track and field.

Paralympics considers it persona non grata for the moment. That credit goes to an ever-growing group of athletes, who won't accept any alternative.